Tuesday 22 October 2019

Leo has health and housing troubles - but FF struggles to turn these into votes


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John Downing

John Downing

When the Dáil comes back today it is going to be all about Brexit, Brexit and Brexit.

So far, the Taoiseach and his Government have benefited from a broadly cross-party and green jersey approach to Brexit. But as the October deadline approaches we will hear far more shrill calls from Fianna Fáil and the other opposition parties for the Government to tell citizens what we need to know.

As the clock ticks down, the hitherto half-reasonable argument that saying too much would undermine the EU/Irish negotiating position, and be used as propaganda by London, will wear increasingly thin. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin's "Mr Responsible" stance on Brexit appears to have resonated with voters.

It helped a welcome pre-Dáil return boost in the opinion polls for his party, though that was also surely helped by pre-summer bad press for the Government, and Fine Gael especially, over runaway spending on the new children's hospital and the roll-out of rural broadband.

But these are very strange times indeed. We know that next year's Budget, to be presented this day in three weeks, will be prepared on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit.

That requires Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe reclaiming Fine Gael's old-style prudent approach to managing the national finances, a virtuous reputation, which even a very short time ago was Mr Donohoe's middle name.

It is hard to read the signs around the hoped-for late Brexit deal to save us from the unnecessary and calamitous no-deal end here. When Boris Johnson goes all Pollyanna on us, the EU reminds us that they have not seen a screed of paper from London.

The Democratic Unionist Party appears to be actively seeking ladders to help themselves down from their lonely rock of insisting there must be no special case for the North.

That looks good but there are, as always, other complications surrounding that one.

The point for our TDs trundling through the portals of Leinster House today is that a relatively less pernicious Brexit could still land on us in the next six weeks. Were that to happen, the issue may not be the big one at all when the parties pound the election beat after Easter next year.

We could be right back to the old reliables: health and housing. Now here Leo Varadkar and his ministers have considerable troubles.

But so do the Opposition. It continues to struggle with trying to convert these huge Government shortcomings into votes at the ballot box.

Things are even more complex for the smaller parties. Labour remains in danger of disappearing in the next general election having got no real lift in the recent local and Europeans, and still stalled in the opinion polls. Its refrain that former TDs will rise again rings a little hollow.

Sinn Féin is equally worried. The Red C poll for the 'Sunday Business Post' suggests a swing to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, bringing their combined strength close to 60pc.

Irish Independent

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