Sunday 20 October 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'A good bounce in locals could tempt leaders to hop the ball once again'


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Local elections are usually an excuse to give the Government a good kicking - but next month's outing will have a different narrative.

It will be more of a dress rehearsal for the real thing rather than a mid-term assessment of the pitch.

All parties will use the opportunity to test policies, slogans and indeed candidates for a bigger match.

At one stage there was talk in Leinster House that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar might call a snap general election for the same day.

Thankfully, the idea of asking people to vote in local and European elections, a divorce referendum and a Dáil election proved a ballot paper too far.

The next theory regularly discussed by TDs was that there would be an irreconcilable bust-up between the parties ahead of the Budget in October.

The new Brexit date of October 31 has now seen that timeline thrown out the window.

But Mr Varadkar or Micheál Martin could still be tempted to call an election over the summer if the locals go well.

Five years ago, Fine Gael and its then coalition partners in the Labour Party got an almighty drubbing in the local elections while Fianna Fáil reclaimed the largest number of councillors.

Both of the main parties are already canvassing with an air of confidence for next month.

Fianna Fáil would see holding something close to the 267 seats won last time as "progress". "It would mean we're bedding in," a source said.

Party officials will be putting a huge effort into Dublin, where polls suggest Fianna Fáil is struggling. There will be "intensive promotion" around council candidates like Paul McAuliffe, Cormac Devlin and Olivia Buckley, who will need to make a 'breakthrough' in the general election if Mr Martin is to become the next Taoiseach.

On the Fine Gael side, it's less clear what success would look like. There is a realisation that overtaking Fianna Fáil in terms of local authority numbers might be overly ambitious - but it would like to close the gap.

A good bounce for either party on May 24 will immediately lead to internal questions about whether they should take a second hop of the ball.

There are dozens of reasons why either side could cause a snap election.

Fianna Fáil TDs have bitten their lips over a host of Government failings in recent months.

But Mr Varadkar could argue legislation is being stymied and therefore he needs a fresh mandate to govern. His Justice Minister is trapped in purgatory (the Seanad) trying to get the Judicial Appointments Bill for 100 hours.

And then there are the unknown 'events'.

Rightly, the consensus is there won't be a general election this year, but stranger things have happened.

Irish Independent

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