Saturday 16 February 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Brexit will overshadow everything - except for a brand of personality politics in Ireland'

 

Quintet: Fine Gael new candidates Cllr Sarah Reilly with Emer Currie, Cllr Emer Higgins, Mary Newman-Julian and Sandra McIntyre at its think-in at the Alex Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath
Quintet: Fine Gael new candidates Cllr Sarah Reilly with Emer Currie, Cllr Emer Higgins, Mary Newman-Julian and Sandra McIntyre at its think-in at the Alex Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Inspirational quotes go hand and hand with the new year, so we expected to find a few in Leo Varadkar's speech to his party at their 'winter think-in' yesterday.

There weren't many but his message was still pretty clear. He believes Fine Gael is fit and battle ready, but members need to be deeply aware of their own flaws.

In the months ahead, Mr Varadkar wants his Government to focus on "preparing for all eventualities in relation to Brexit"; "improving the availability and affordability of housing"; and ensuring all citizens "can share in our national prosperity".

He has even identified a new drum to beat in the form of climate change. "Fine Gael must become the party of the environment," he told the troops.

Mr Varadkar suggested that in the "same way that we led on marriage equality and repeal of the Eighth Amendment, we should take leadership of this next progressive cause".

It's worth recalling that Fine Gael was late to grasp public opinion on marriage equality and abortion, but ultimately deserves some credit for its efforts in bringing forward referendums. However, it has never exactly been climate change deniers, just didn't see any votes in forcing people to alter the habits of a lifetime.

But climate change is now in vogue and Mr Varadkar loves to be on trend.

Sinn Féin also had a new year gathering over the weekend, when the party marked the 100th anniversary of the first Dáil. It loves to exploit the confusion over the fact a Sinn Féin party won 73 of the 105 seats in that parliament.

The fact the party was led by one Éamon de Valera is rarely mentioned.

But there'll be plenty of time to debate that in the weeks ahead. On this occasion, though, Mary Lou McDonald faced questions over why two Sinn Féin representatives were at the inauguration of Nicolas Maduro as president of Venezuela.

She argued Mr Maduro's election was "open and democratic", before drawing comparisons between poverty levels in Ireland and Venezuela.

So, it seems her priorities remain unchanged for 2019. Toe the party line even when faced with the indefensible.

More than 80pc of Venezuelans live below the poverty line. The EU has said Mr Maduro's re-election "lacked credibility" and the US said it was a "sham" election.

Then there is Fianna Fáil. Micheál Martin's party has not had any get-together to prepare for the months ahead.

It's an ongoing bone of contention among some in the party that there isn't enough consultation with the lower ranks - but that doesn't seem to bother the leadership.

Mr Martin is confident in his own skin and definitely doesn't feel the need to be either 'on trend' or to 'toe anybody's line'. Instead, he will be busy laying traps for the two other party leaders, especially Mr Varadkar.

Fianna Fáil has a list of legislation it wants fast-tracked before the summer. It includes bills dealing with mortgage rates, social media and bail laws.

Mr Martin also plans to ratchet up his attacks on Eoghan Murphy and Simon Harris for their handling of the crises in housing and health.

But as he said when agreeing to extend the lifespan of the Government, Brexit "overshadows" everything - and until those clouds clear who knows what the term ahead will bring us.

In the meantime, we can expect a personality-driven jockeying for position by the three main party leaders.

'Leo versus Micheál versus Mary Lou' will be the story of this Dáil term. Ireland is about to see personality politics on a whole new level as they put their reputations on the line for the local elections.

Irish Independent

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