The Yates Anthology: Fine Gael's silver bullet strategy
It's been a really bad 2016 so far for Fine Gael. Its seats have vaporised and now there is no clear sense of direction in the new Dáil. It urgently needs to devise a strategy that allows it to participate in a sustainable government, while simultaneously patching up the battered ship to weather the next election. It faces the grim prospect of being in office but not in power, forming a lame-duck minority administration that'll be kicked about by most TDs on the opposition benches. The party also needs a new leader's face on election posters.
Fine Gael voters want the party in government, pursuing prudent policies that will extend economic recovery wider and deeper. It risks, through indecision, being outmanoeuvred by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.
A single 'silver bullet' strategy that avoids all landmines looks like this: Fine Gael must announce, with authority, the impossibility of establishing a minority government with only 50 TDs. Without Labour, but including the smaller parties of Social Democrats, Greens and Independent Alliance, it would still be 18 short of a working Dáil majority - with only 16 Independents remaining, it means 79 is unattainable. Even if it could get elected, implementing a Programme for Government would be impossible on issues like Irish Water or GP cover for under-12s. Game over.
The party should invite Fianna Fáil to form a national government with Fine Gael as equal partners. Up front, it should offer a five-year term with rotating Taoiseach; at mid-point, a full Cabinet reshuffle and a reasonable portfolio share of Cabinet/junior ministers to alternate in the second half of the period. To ensure Fianna Fáil could not refuse, Fine Gael should allow Micheál Martin to lead the new government initially. This would facilitate him explaining to a special Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis how a new government could be achieved.
This seems like a surrender by Fine Gael. But it's actually brilliant tactics. If Fianna Fáil declines the deal, it's exposed in an early election as being tribal and putting the party before the country. What basis could Martin then seek to be Taoiseach, having turned the top job down? If Fianna Fáil accepts, it allows Fine Gael time to elect a new, more popular leader in orderly fashion. That leader would gain maximum momentum by leading Fine Gael into the next election as Taoiseach.
It's win-win strategy for Fine Gael, irrespective of all Fianna Fáil responses. It means throwing Enda Kenny (inset) under a bus - but most cannot envisage him leading the party at hustings again, so it can drop the hypocrisy. Do Fine Gael TDs really expect if he's re-elected Taoiseach he'll voluntarily step down in a year's time - a completely naive prospect.
Who knows how Fianna Fáil would respond to such an instant offer of power. In all scenarios, it places Fine Gael optimally for the next contest, whenever it is. One step backwards, in order to take two steps forward - it's a big gesture in the national interest and it is sure to play well with middle-ground voters, who didn't vote for either party to engage in weeks of futile charades.
Time-bomb in the public sector
When the country's foremost industrial relations boss predicts a time-bomb will explode in September amidst public sector unions, we must take notice. ASTI/TUI teachers and Garda representative associations voted against the Lansdowne Road agreement. They face no pay restoration through increments, payment of special allowances or the benefits of financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation amendments. Serious disruption is inevitable. New recruits since 2010 remain on 'yellow pack', low-pay terms - doing the same work as their colleagues for less pay. This was fixed for nurses, but not teachers and gardaí. Expectations of pay rises across the fastest-growing economy in the world are endemic. Nobody's managing these expectations. Meanwhile, no structure exists to deal with pay relativity. Not having a successor to benchmarking was OK in the austerity years, but this won't endure indefinitely.
Labour Relations Commission CEO Kieran Mulvey's warning is stark. SIPTU looks set to be more militant (with Labour out of government), with Jack O'Connor willing to sanction all-out indefinite Luas stoppages in support of a 27pc pay hike. The next Cabinet needs to urgently adopt a coherent plan to preserve industrial peace and ensure affordable public pay bill.
Bets on for Willie's army victory march
Willie Mullins's record eight victories and nine placed horses at Cheltenham last year will be hard to match. My five-star short-priced bankers are: Douvan (Arkle Chase, Tuesday 2.10) - best horse in training; Limini (Mares novice hurdle, Friday 5.30) - unbeaten, unbelievable stable confidence; Un De Sceaux (Champion Chase, Wednesday 3.30) - unbeaten whenever completing course, last Ascot win is best form; Vroom Vroom Mag (Mares hurdle Tuesday 4.10) eight consecutive victories over both obstacles, ideal distance, settles well. All will be ridden by Ruby Walsh with maximum confidence.
The next battalion of wagers are each-way bets to nothing: Yorkhill (Supreme novice Tuesday/Neptune Wednesday) - unbeaten, last victory Tolworth Sandown was outstanding, improving classy type; Castello Sforza (Bumper Wednesday) - won sole race at Fairyhouse Easter Festival, acquired by JP McManus, could be anything; Footpad (Triumph hurdle Friday) - greatly improved run with first time hood to win best grade-one juvenile at Leopardstown, ex French import; Great Field (County hurdle or Coral Cup) - scintillating debut at Leopardstown, could be grade-one horse against handicappers.
The most crucial event is Thursday's Gold Cup; Mullins has never trained the winner. Odds will be available on the day for a Mullins victory. An encapsulating collective bet is on the trio of Vatour (stunning winner last two festivals), Djakadam (runner-up last year) and Don Poli (immaculate jumper, Lexus Leopardstown winner, unbeaten Cheltenham). Ruby's ride is likely favourite, if Bryan Cooper opts for Don Cossack. I'll be avoiding hot fancies: Sprinter Sacre, No More Heroes, Bristol De Mai, Minella Rocco and Paul Nicholls's horses. It promises to be non-stop, sensational entertainment. For a week-long, fun punt, why not be patriotic: back Ireland to win, BetBright Prestbury Cup @9/4 with most festival wins.