Sunday 26 January 2020

Opposition killers in hunt for ministerial blood hold their fire for now

Stock picture
Stock picture
John Downing

John Downing

So, on that basis, every minister has a free "get out of jail card" until May 25 and the abortion referendum.

The more usually fearsome killers on the Opposition benches would be expected take down an errant Government member without a second thought. But the ministerial killing season is temporarily closed, due to exceptional circumstances, for five full weeks.

Maybe it's time some of the others in Cabinet 'fessed up to any evil or ill-judged deeds. We know a week is a long time in politics - so five weeks these days is a political lifetime.

In the meantime, we have to make do with the most critical rhetoric available to damn the behaviour of Communications Minister Denis Naughten, who yesterday added a more contrite version of his earlier explanation. At the same time, the minister's Fine Gael colleagues put a little more commitment into their support for their embattled colleague.

The Opposition continued to crank up their "rhetoricometer". For Fianna Fáil, deputy leader Dara Calleary said Mr Naughten's excuses were of the "dog ate my homework" variety.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the minister's position was untenable.

The heft of criticism was maintained on the left side of spectrum, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith was scathing, as was Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats, while Labour leader Brendan Howlin accused Mr Naughten of compromising his ministerial functions.

But oddly enough, there is no rush to phase two - an effort to have the minister oxtered out of office. For many of the critics, the only political game in town is the abortion referendum.

Does that mean we'll see it all revived in late May, early June?

Most unlikely, we have to say. This is because the simple reality is that if the Opposition insists Mr Naughen has to go, it had better have its walking boots oiled and election posters ready.

It would make for interesting conversations on the opening days of election canvassing. Politician: "Morning, Ms Moloney, will you vote for me?"

Bemused potential voter: "Why is there an election?"

Politician: "Well, this bloke phoned a minister..."

Things got a bit more real yesterday morning, when the Ipsos/MRBI poll was published by the 'Irish Times'. It showed Fine Gael had dropped three points to 31pc - hardly an incentive to want to go pounding the canvass beat. The same could be said of Fianna Fáil, which is up one point but still stuck in the mid-20s on 26pc.

True, it brought good tidings to Sinn Féin, up three points to 22pc, while its newly minted leader has a personal rating of 39pc, far ahead of her predecessor Gerry Adams. But even that says: "Yes, an election - but not yet."

The Sinn Féin referendum posters unveiled yesterday, featuring Ms McDonald, show it wants to showcase her some more before the "big one".

Irish Independent

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