Sunday 25 August 2019

Kevin Doyle: Winner takes all - but Martin has the most to lose

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Election fever is starting to infect the main political parties.

All sides have their slogans selected, their key players ready to rumble and draft manifestos waiting to roll off the printers.

Ministers are gossiping about whether it will be Leo Varadkar or Micheál Martin to pull the plug.

Fianna Fáilers are debating the value of propping up Fine Gael for a moment longer than they have to.

Sinn Féin is wondering whether it should give the whole situation a shunt by placing a motion of no confidence in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.

In every election the stakes are high but this time around they are off the scale. The country faces the unusual prospect of going to the polls four times in little over a year as the electoral cycle is knocked completely out of sync. The likelihood is that we will be voting in a referendum, a presidential election, a general election, and local and European elections by June 2019.

The winner of whichever election comes first could literally take it all.

Traditionally, local elections are our equivalent of a mid-term review for the Government parities.

Punters tend to issue retribution for the promises inevitably broken in the period since the previous general election.

Just look at what happened to the coalition in 2014.

Fine Gael, under Enda Kenny, lost 105 council seats. Things were even worse for the Labour Party, whose leader Eamon Gilmore resigned after it lost well over half its seats.

However, if the next local elections take place shortly after the selection of a new government then the rule book will be thrown out the window.

Assuming the general election takes place at some point between November and April, there will be a very quick turnaround to the locals.

Whoever gets into government will still be sailing high on the back of their success and the pageantry that comes with forming a government.

If nothing else, it will change the narrative of those elections which is usually dominated by the opposition parties criticising the government's performance in the previous two/three years.

Senior figures in Fine Gael yesterday speculated that Micheál Martin might pull the plug on the now shaky confidence and supply arrangement once the referendum on the Eighth Amendment is out of the way, "or maybe at Budget time", "or he might hold until after Christmas". In other words, they haven't a clue.

One minister proposed that Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney would very happily renegotiate the deal with Fianna Fáil rather than face the country.

After appearing to want an election last year, the new Taoiseach is now comfortable in his surroundings.

But Fianna Fáil backbenchers feel strangled by 'new politics' and many on the frontbench like the idea of having a tilt at high office.

Many of Micheál Martin's TDs are gunning for an election. They see Fine Gael flatlining when it comes to housing and health.

On social media yesterday, Mr Martin took exception to the idea that there is a backlash against his 'steady as she goes' approach.

That seemed to be based on the idea that his long-term critic John McGuinness was the person publicly agitating for movement.

In reality, Mr McGuinness is far from a lone voice in believing that Fianna Fáil has lived up to its promises under the deal with Fine Gael.

But Mr Martin will ultimately have to make the call. Because while the winner might take it all in the 2018/19 election frenzy, the Fianna Fáil leader has the most to lose.

Irish Independent

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