Wednesday 22 January 2020

Don't expect any tea or handshakes when bond between 'the lads' ends

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Just before voters went to the polls in 2016, Enda Kenny and Joan Burton went for tea in Dublin's Grand Canal Dock.

It was an excoriating photocall as the coalition partners tried to make small talk about everything except their impending doom.

But it was nice that they made the effort to pretend that everything at the heart of government was rosy.

Fine Gael and the Labour Party worked well together when Eamon Gilmore was at the helm, but things became a bit more challenging when Ms Burton took over.

And weeks after that general election the two parties were at each other's throats as Labour slipped back into Opposition mode under Brendan Howlin.

Just yesterday in the Dáil, Junior Finance Minister Patrick O'Donovan had a right old go at Ms Burton.

He argued she was happily in government for two years signing off on major projects like Grangegorman College, but was now criticising the Government for how they have been delivered.

"That is absolutely incredulous," he fumed.

It shows how quickly political relationships can go from comfortable to edgy to downright contemptuous.

The bond between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil since the last election has been unprecedented.

The parties have worked together to pass two budgets, ganged up on Sinn Féin and on occasion done side deals for political expediency.

But the rallying cry from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to his troops on Wednesday night spells the beginning of the end.

In the old days the idea of the Fine Gael leader telling his TDs to "call out" Fianna Fáil would have been run of the mill. But under the 'confidence and supply' arrangement there's a limit to how much ill-will they can wish upon their neighbours.

Likewise, Fianna Fáil has struggled to find its place with one foot in and one foot out of government.

All the while Sinn Féin, under Mary Lou McDonald, is loving what she describes as the tension between "the lads".

"It seems now that there is a trouble in paradise," she gleefully said yesterday.

"They were very, very cranky with each other yesterday. It does strike me as very, very strange that Micheál Martin (below) cries so loudly about policies pursued by a Government that he keeps in office."

Her targeting of Fianna Fáil rather than Fine Gael is no accident. The gap between her party and Mr Martin in the polls is now less than the one between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil on Tuesday he is keeping a list of all the demands coming from the Fianna Fáil benches. His list for education and social protection, seen by the Irish Independent, amounts to €449m in annual spending.

It includes extra capitation payments for schools, pension entitlements for CE supervisors and an extended fuel allowance payment due to the bad weather.

But that's what Opposition parties do. They make demands. They argue for what their constituents want.

Imagine an Opposition TD telling a local voter that they won't raise the question of fixing their potholes as it would be 'fiscally irresponsible' to do so.

Fianna Fáil TDs feel they have served their penance for the economic crash and are ready to be back in government. For that to happen the confidence and supply arrangement can't end with tea and a handshake.

Irish Independent

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