Tuesday 15 October 2019

Ivan Yates: 'Tiresome Áras election merely the calm before the Brexit storm'


Talks: Tánaiste Simon Coveney with British Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington at a meeting of the British-Irish Inter- Governmental Conference in Dublin. PHOTO: JULIEN BEHAL
Talks: Tánaiste Simon Coveney with British Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington at a meeting of the British-Irish Inter- Governmental Conference in Dublin. PHOTO: JULIEN BEHAL
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

Reading the political tea leaves left after the presidential election begs the question: was it all a storm in a teacup or is there something more ominous on the political horizon?

A week on, it's also worth examining the impact (if any) on the timing or outcome of the next general election.

We also need to look at how ugly is the electorate's mood and what voting trends may emerge.

The re-election of Michael D Higgins was never in doubt as long as ring-masters Leo and Micheál deemed their parties' interests lay in avoiding the costs and hassles of campaigning.

Both holding on to the precious resources for the real electoral showdown of Varadkar versus Martin to wear the Taoiseach's crown.

Plan A was a coronation. Plan B was to delay Higgins's declaration until July to prevent any other heavyweight candidates queering the pitch.

It worked. And Michael D deserves congratulations. But my submission is that his best years as president are behind him.

Be honest. Who's at their prime aged 80 years? Ignoring the relentless ageing process on any mature septuagenarian could come back to haunt them as Father Time inevitably takes its toll by 2025.

If Michael D becomes incapacitated, what then?

If senior politicians had insisted on full transparency on the €55m total costs of the incumbent's first presidency term, rather than looking away, it would've served the best interests of respecting the integrity of the office.

Delaying the publication of financial details until after the vote smacked of contempt for voters. Public audits are a non-negotiable core value for every state office, subject to Freedom of Information legislation.

Off-camera political leaders are worn out clapping themselves on the backs claiming credit for the overwhelming first count result.

They remain wilfully blind to the fact that of the 3.4 million eligible electors, two million didn't bother to show up.

Dismiss them at your peril. An ever deepening chasm of cynicism appears between electors and the elected.

Not one TD inside Leinster House indicated support for Peter Casey, yet he hoovered up 340,000 votes.

For future presidential wannabes, the winner's playbook is explicit: without a party backing you, even indirectly, you cannot mount a ground war in constituencies.

Not only that, you must spend €400,000 in visible postering and leaflets. You will also need a minimum of two years to get organised nationally.

Once you have ticked those boxes you will be required to perfect a well-known personal back "story"; former political campaign experience, and a gettable sales pitch for the Áras.

It needs to be presented as a passionate lifetime goal - rather than an opportunistic afterthought. Casey's vote represented a backlash. Amazingly, this came predominantly from private sector self-employed and fed-up workers.

The day before polling, I was speaking at the national conference of auctioneers. They had profiled his support throughout rural Ireland, privately predicting he would get 24pc of the vote.

His diaspora, Council of State, broadband, SME ideas all failed to gain traction.

He made his mark by refusing to back down in the face of full onslaught from the media/establishment elite over his condemnation of Travellers.

The hitherto unspoken truth was that many communities (and public officials) have been intimidated for decades by a minority of unruly individuals within Traveller community.

Businesses have also suffered when large groups get disorderly during funerals and weddings.

Many elderly live in fear in remote rural areas, after unsolicited visitations from some Travellers offering painting/tarmacadam/trading jobs.

Criminal records are over-looked by a Dublin-centric media.

The long-term answer lies in rectifying disadvantage in education and the health services. But legal compliance for all sections of the community isn't an unreasonable demand.

In any event Casey's prospects in a general election are far from certain. He's not a team player and politics is a team sport.

His mercurial top of the head straight from the lip approach works in a bland/boring non-contest, but even if he makes it through, he'll at best only have a cameo Dáil role.

Sipo funding rules effectively debar new parties. He should learn from Seán Gallagher's trauma of thinking that his 2011 presidential campaign mattered. An acute lack of self-awareness is often the precursor to ultimate public humiliation.

Sinn Féin's 94,000 votes was by any stretch a dire result. While Liadh Ní Riada will take the blame, SF's tactics didn't resonate, leaving aside ambivalence to past atrocities. It is no longer seen as the protest party in working-class urban areas. Her primary message of a United Ireland has limited buy-in beyond the Border counties.

Millennials have no desire to pick up the tax costs of the North's dependent public sector economy. Nor do they want any truck with what they see as the North's religion-centric politics.

All current politics is already a sideshow to the main event, the next Dáil election.

The Confidence & Supply 'talks about talks' will be strung out by Fianna Fáil until Christmas, under the guise of a review. It seems the FF (Martin's) game plan is to offer FG enough time to pass one more budget next October.

This gives Micheál the opportunity to elect four MEPs (one per constituency) and a nationwide slate of councillors. He can then argue that opinion polls don't reflect the true level of support for his party. Moreover, it may provide a crop of potential TDs as candidates in Dublin who have been freshly elected to the councils. Alarmingly, exit polls revealed in the capital that FF stand at 13pc versus FG's 34pc, indicating more time for rebuilding is necessary on the crucial east coast.

A Brexit withdrawal deal will be decisive to predicting Varadkar's tactics. If an agreement is reached in December that retains the backstop and maintains the status quo terms for North-south and east-west continuity of trade/services, Leo will find it impossible to cut and run. Thus combining a general election with the Local/Euro elections on Friday, May 24 - at the latest.

Insider indications from Brussels are that Theresa May will do another volte face, once her budget passes in Westminster. She seems prepared to reconcile a frictionless Border on the island of Ireland with no constitutional differentiation between Britain and the North, by keeping all of the UK in the single market and EU customs union for the transition period. This would be a fantastic result for Ireland.

This interim Brexitino (in name only) means presenting to parliament: full British withdrawal from all EU institutions; ensuring short-term continuity of British business; and the declaration prospect of an ultimate bespoke customs union.

This would involve facing down her Brexiteer MPs and would be based on the gamble of baldly putting it up to all MPs of either the most precipitous cliff edge, no deal, no transition period OR her withdrawal agreement compromise. Or, lastly, a UK general election.

The presidential dust-up is about to be replaced by the mother of all power plays once Brexit white smoke appears.

Irish Independent

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