Friday 14 December 2018

As Government draws to an end the 'blame game' begins

Strategy of Brexit 'guilt' won't delay the election, says Jody Corcoran

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The Government's intention, apparently, is to "guilt" Fianna Fail into not ending the 'confidence and supply' deal after the Budget.

With that in mind, Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance are now effectively challenging Micheal Martin to not "hit us with Brexit in our arms", or, to put it another way, to "wear the green jersey". The implication being that should Brexit go badly wrong, or worse than already expected, it will be all the fault of Fianna Fail.

As Shane Ross used to say, before he ran away to hide: ho hum.

We need to get used to this sort of thing, though, what we can call the 'blame game' now that the Government is nearing its well-flagged, self-appointed and scheduled end.

This should come as a surprise to precisely no one, as it was always the intention: what part of three budgets don't you understand?

With the third Budget and related legislation expected to be passed in October and a few months thereafter, a general election looms on the horizon some time early next year.

As it has subsequently transpired, that election will coincide with the UK's formal EU exit date in March.

So any day now we can expect the usual suspects, useful idiot backbench Fine Gael TDs, to pipe up with the challenge: don't hit us with the Brexit baby in our arms.

You will recognise them when they do: blue suits, brown shoes, gelled hair, furrowed brows, intoning in a most meaningful fashion on the seriousness of Brexit.

More than that, they will look into their souls and tell us that the people do not want an election right now. They know this kind of thing, you see, as turkeys know all about Christmas.

We have already had John Halligan, of the Independent Alliance, hot on the heels of colleague Finian McGrath, issue such dire warnings.

With North Korea relations no longer such a concern, the Independent Alliance - international statesmen, like - now seem to be as preoccupied with Brexit as with pork barrel politics.

Oh, how we like to obsess about Brexit. In fact, a recent study of EU media attitudes by the Reuters Institute at Oxford University suggests Europeans are actually fairly relaxed about Brexit.

According to the study, which examined 3,500 articles published in various EU27 countries between September and last February, there really is a "general lack of anxiety" about the future of the bloc, or of Brexit's impact on individual countries - with the exception of Ireland.

Excluding the Irish media, 68pc of news items reflected on the implications for the UK, with the French press particularly seeing Brexit as a challenge for the British.

Which is what it is, first and foremost, a challenge for the UK.

But the Independent Alliance say Fianna Fail should continue to support the Government, wherein they luxuriate, until summer next year, on account of Brexit.

What an interesting date: summer 2019, two years after one among them, Sean 'Boxer' Moran, the self-styled King of the Midlands, was appointed Minister of State.

At which time, Boxer, like the rest of them, will also qualify for a comfortable ministerial pension. Nice one.

We can expect more of this kind of thing in the run up to the Budget, too - the blame game.

Any day now, Paschal Donohoe, the Finance Minister, will be out to play down expectations. Such is the ritual of all Finance Ministers: a €3bn giveaway Budget? Not a chance.

Outwardly, both parties will scramble to be 'prudent' and 'responsible' and to portray the other as the direct opposite. This, they feel, will go down well with the public - but not half as well as a tax cut or social welfare hike.

The fact is, when you do the sums, the Government has already committed to spending close to €4bn in the Budget. That's if all the various promises can be believed - which, of course, they can't.

Anyway, that is where we are at: Fine Gael 'guilting' Fianna Fail on a Brexit strategy they increasingly disagree on; and the Independent Alliance intoning meaningfully on the meaning of everything, their ministerial pensions included.

The election is still on for February.

Sunday Independent

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