Thursday 13 December 2018

Varadkar put the ball in the English net - now FF has to look to its bench

Ireland's Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar looks on at a news conference at Government Buildings in Dublin, Ireland December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Ireland's Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar looks on at a news conference at Government Buildings in Dublin, Ireland December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

WHEN Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net in 1988, the country went mad - but Jack Charlton had some sage words.

He congratulated the midfielder on his first international goal but told him: "Don't ever score that early in a game again. Those were the longest 84 minutes of my life."

Leo Varadkar had his Ray Houghton moment this week when he appeared to get one over on a hapless Theresa May.

And if the latest opinion poll is to believed, the country has rallied around in support of our leader. Being told to "shut your gob" by the Murdoch press is a badge of honour.

Word of the poll seeped through as Fine Gael and Fianna Fail both held their Christmas drinks on Wednesday night, making for an interesting contrast in reactions.

For Fine Gael, it brought as much relief as it did festive joy. The debacle which led to Frances Fitzgerald's resignation had sowed seeds of doubt about their shiny new leader - but it seems the public were either disinterested or actually believed he was right to stick by the former Tanaiste `til the bitter end.

Nobody really believes that the 36pc registered in the Ipsos MRBI for the `Irish Times' is sustainable, but going into the Christmas break Mr Varadkar will take it.

Over at Fianna Fail though, the poll was barely mentioned, or dismissed.

Party leader Micheal Martin has long maintained that he doesn't pay any attention to the pollsters but even he must have raised an eyebrow when he saw 25pc. To be 11pc behind your rival in the days after the Tanaiste's resignation is frightening.

In February, Mr Martin will be eight years at the helm of a party he rebuilt in the wake of the economic crash. The political scalp of Ms Fitzgerald should have brought him some credibility within his own troops and the public but within a week she was forgotten about. And that's a problem.

Instead the country, and most of Europe, was treated to the image of Leo Varadkar (38), Simon Coveney (45) and Helen McEntee (31) standing in front of the Strategic Communication Unit's shiny green backdrop and telling Britain to sort themselves out. It looked strong and stable.

The abiding image from Fianna Fail in the past fortnight, although we didn't actually see it, was of fist-pumping in the Dail bar at the prospect of an election nobody wanted.

Perception matters in politics and right now the Taoiseach is winning because he is putting his best foot forward.

For a moment during the Fitzgerald saga, Fianna Fail made him look naive and inexperienced but the tussle with the UK changed that.

The time is coming when Mr Martin has to throw a bit of caution to the wind and fight youth with youth. Bring the likes of Jack

Chambers and Lisa Chambers into his strike force. That would require booting out some of the `old gang' but this is survival of the fittest. There's a long time left in this match but Fianna Fail need to bring on some subs.

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