Monday 20 November 2017

Taoiseach prepares for November poll as Coalition now commands 40pc public support

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan

Daniel McConnell and Ronald Quinlan

There was mounting evidence last night that Taoiseach Enda Kenny is clearing the decks to call a General Election in November.

A new opinion poll this weekend shows the Coalition parties now command almost 40pc public support.

The FG/Labour combined 5pc increase in support comes on the back on a new pay deal with the public sector unions, industrial peace with the teachers’ unions, plus a deal to sell Aer Lingus which has raised €350m for investment.

The Coalition bounce comes after Fianna Fail was thrown into crisis by the resignation of Senator Averil Power which has left the party stagnant in the polls. Support for Sinn Fein has also fallen.

Former FF Senator Averil Power
Former FF Senator Averil Power

The Government now intends to take ownership of the positive feeling surrounding the issue related to Power’s decision to quit — the same-sex marriage referendum result as part of its feel-good drive.

The referendum success came just days after unemployment fell to 9.9pc — the first time it has dropped below 10pc since the economic crisis.

Read more: Kenny will not bend to Left on abortion

Responding to the poll, one Fine Gael minister last night strongly advocated an early election once the Budget is passed in October.

He said: “I would personally say go early, rather than risk getting it wrong by going long.

“It is ultimately a matter for the Taoiseach, and it is a very difficult call — but we have had a good run since Christmas and are getting

stuff done. Still, I would say go early.”

Another Cabinet minister said that any decision to go early would depend on opinion polls after the Budget in October which the Government expects to be positive.

He said: “If the polls look good, then we are far more likely to go early, but if they are not good we will hang in.”

The Government is planning another round of tax cuts and spending increases in the Budget designed to “put money in the pockets” of voters, according to senior Cabinet figures.

The latest Red C opinion poll for the Sunday Business Post shows Fine Gael (28pc) up three points; Labour (10pc) up two points; Fianna Fail(19pc) unchanged; Sinn Fein (21pc) down one; and Independents/Others (22pc) down four points.

Read more: Revealed: Noonan warned of new crisis in property market

In recent weeks Mr Kenny has effectively cleared the decks in what political advisers say will give him the option to go to the country sooner rather than later.

A new public sector pay deal was agreed in record time, restoring contentious pay cuts in a move that is widely perceived as intended to bolster Labour’s re-election prospects.

Earlier this month the Government also reached agreement with teachers’ unions to implement reforms to the Junior Certificate. The unions have undertaken to hold a ballot “as early as practicable in autumn 2015” — a decision likely to ensure industrial peace before an election.

The State’s €350m from the sale of its stake in Aer Lingus will also be earmarked for investment by the Coalition before the election is called.

However, there are also potential setbacks that Mr Kenny must contend with.

The new public sector pay deal has been severely criticised by a number of Fine Gael TDs, who have branded it as a “desperate Labour attempt to keep unions onside”.

Read more: November election looms as Enda ticks all the boxes

The new deal, which will cost €566m over three years, has been slated by Fine Gael TDs. Dublin Bay South TD Eoghan Murphy described the deal as “crazy”.

“From what I’ve heard, I think it’s crazy,” he said. “Borrowing to pay one sector a pay increase —which is then funded by every taxpayer? I would question whether or not the

Government has a mandate to do it, to be honest.”

Waterford TD John Deasy said: “Any dividend needs to be shared between both private and public sector workers. This has more to do with Labour being desperate to keep the unions on side,” he said.

The Sunday Independent revealed last month that 290,000 public sector workers were in line for an increase  of 2pc. Defending the move — which is certain to be criticised by private sector employers — ministers insisted a 2pc rise was “reasonable and appropriate” given the return of pay increases in certain parts of the private sector.

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