Saturday 20 July 2019

Smart money is on Grealish to go but PDs' odds are poor

Nobody whose opinion is informed and worth hearing believes that Noel Grealish will still be in the PDs this weekend.

Everyone asked about the Galway TD's intentions yesterday said that if he were going to stay in the party, Mr Grealish would have ended the speculation about his defecting to Fianna Fail over the weekend.

Mr Grealish declined another opportunity to kill off the story yesterday and the PDs didn't provide a suitably senior member to discuss it on Vincent Browne's late-night news slot on TV3.

And while Fianna Failers swear they have no plans to parade the defector at their parliamentary party think-in next week in Galway, Mr Grealish's appearance in his native city would get a standing ovation from them.

Since last year's general election, Mr Grealish has told anyone who asked him about his strong links to Fianna Fail and that he doesn't see how the PDs can continue. And the prospects of the PDs have diminished with the loss of three councillors in recent times. Some of the party's founders openly say it should be wound up.

It is clear that the leader of the PDs, Ciaran Cannon, doesn't know (or maybe doesn't want to know) what Mr Grealish will do in advance of a meeting of the parliamentary party and national executive on Thursday. It is also deeply embarrassing for Senator Cannon, who has never stamped his authority on the party

Yet it is hard to believe that Mary Harney, a founder of the PDs and Minister for Health, has not been informed about Mr Grealish's intentions.

If she hasn't asked, it suggests she doesn't care; and if Mr Grealish hasn't told her, it is an insult to the party's leader, who welcomed him into the PDs.

If he does join Fianna Fail, thereby reducing the number of PD TDs by 50pc, it could lead to further unhappy consequences for the party. It is not clear how much money the PDs get from the exchequer, but would Mr Grealish's defection cut funding to the PDs by 50pc?

Would Ms Harney continue to serve as Health Minister as a member of the PDs or declare herself as an independent? The speculation about Noel Grealish has also rekindled rumours that Ms Harney may be appointed EU Commissioner next year.

Fianna Fail know they have little chance of winning a by-election should one of their ministers go to the EU Commission. And by next year, Ms Harney will have the lion's share of her reforms in place in the Health Service.

While she shared the current Commissioner Charlie McCreevy's suspicion of the EU, she campaigned very hard for the Lisbon Treaty and convinced Europhiles of her enthusiasm. Yet close friends say that, while she will not run again for the Dail, Ms Harney would be happier concentrating on business than moving to Brussels.

But whatever about Ms Harney changing jobs next year, Noel Grealish will probably be changing party colours in the coming days.

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