Wednesday 18 September 2019

John Downing: 'Leo hopes to follow in Bertie's footsteps with some May election magic'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar chats with general election candidate Emer Currie (left) and TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor (right) during the Fine Gael parliamentary meeting at the Garryvoe Hotel in Cork. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar chats with general election candidate Emer Currie (left) and TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor (right) during the Fine Gael parliamentary meeting at the Garryvoe Hotel in Cork. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
John Downing

John Downing

So, does Leo Varadkar really want to cadge a bit of that Bertie Ahern "May election magic?" That is my entry for rhetorical question of the month - of course he does.

The comparisons between these two apparently 'chalk and cheese' Taoisigh have begun to pile up over the past two years. Their ability to travel light politically, and remain aloof and enigmatic wherever possible, are among the attributes cited from time to time. But the former Fianna Fáil leader, before he tumbled from national grace, did win two of his three record back-to-back general elections in the merry month of May.

In 2002, polling day was May 17 and the next one, in 2007, was on May 22.

Leo Varadkar told his Fine Gael troops at their think-in that May 2020 was the right time for a general election. Then he pucked out the ritual denunciations of the "other crowd" - otherwise known as Fianna Fáil who keep him in office - and all the other crowds, putting a particular focus on the Green Party.

Could this be because Eamon Ryan's party will be the kingmaker in June 2020? It is also likely that Fine Gael is still smarting from the leakage of its votes to the Greens in the locals and Europeans this past summer. But we shall see all these things and more in the coming political months.

We have long known that the next election will be in summer 2020. Politicians and civil servants have always loved the seasons as designated targets for delivery or non-delivery of this and that.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Photo: Justin Farrelly

So, are we talking Celtic "summer" of May, June, and July? Or, should we include the quintessential holiday month of August, which may be designated as autumn?

Or, should we allow summer drift into September when the weather can be so unkind to returning school children?

Fianna Fáil quickly blasted the Taoiseach's citing of May 2020 as the election month as "a distraction".

They said it was meant to take attention away from the ongoing travails of Brexit and the other manifold woes in the pipeline, and Mr Varadkar should be about the serious business of government.

Well, you would have to say that not much gets past that Fianna Fáil crowd in the Sherlock Holmes stakes. Bullseye! That is, at least in part, exactly what it is.

Option A: all the dreary quotidian stuff of life. Option B: a promised circus next summer. A hard choice that one.

All politicians love a summer election. Even in the dying days of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition, the veteran Batt O'Keeffe tried to elongate the stay of execution by talking of the "joy of canvassing with the sun on your back".

Nobody wants to canvass in the cold and would-be voters are often reluctant to open their doors in awful weather. The bonus teatime hours of daylight are vital to eyeball the punters and doors can be knocked upon up until 9pm.

A fair fight can be fought. We might even be beyond hospital trolley crises and winter vomiting bugs.

But the months between now and May 2020 are filled with all kinds of pitfalls. We may well be in a rather different country with vastly different political terrain by then.

Where will Brexit land for Ireland? Will there be a dreaded international economic recession?

Will US President Trump do his worst with international trade? Who knows what other horrors are out there?

But Leo Varadkar is clearly banking on better weather, both literally and politically. We shall see whether it keeps fine for him.

Irish Independent

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