Friday 18 October 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Relative harmony to bite the dust as gloves come off for election scrap'

 

Donohoe’s inspiration: Queen’s Freddie Mercury had a song called 'A Kind of Magic'
Donohoe’s inspiration: Queen’s Freddie Mercury had a song called 'A Kind of Magic'
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

We have become a little smug over the past two years as our nearest neighbours in the House of Commons tore each other apart 'in the national interest'.

By comparison, our politicians have been measured and mature in their bid to provide stability.

The cracks are beginning to show in the wake of the local elections which suggested Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are neck and neck as we head towards a bigger day out.

There were obvious signs in Leinster House this week that the gloves are coming off.

Having tip-toed around each other for the past three years, the insults are now flying across the Dáil chamber.

And speaking on Independent.ie's 'Floating Voter' podcast, Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen said he wouldn't guarantee that his party would allow October's budget through. His leader Micheál Martin has promised to back a fourth and final budget under Confidence and Supply - but Cowen says: "You can't guarantee that any budget will pass. But we'll enter into the budget process in good faith, with the best of intentions to ensure we can adequately provide for people in the context of a soft or hard Brexit."

Fianna Fáil will have a shopping list for Paschal Donohoe - but the two parties are at war over the public finances.

In recent weeks, Cowen has left his counterparts looking a little puzzled as he repeatedly referred to the Finance Minister as Freddie Mercury.

The Offaly TD claims he hasn't even seen the Oscar-winning 'Bohemian Rhapsody' but is basing his charge on the song 'A Kind of Magic'. "It [money] can't be just magicked out of the air," he says.

That's one way we definitely differ from the Brits. Irish politicians are much more blunt in their insults. Jacob Rees-Mogg recently told an honourable friend that he was making "a characteristically Wykehamist point - highly intelligent, but fundamentally wrong".

Future prime minister Boris Johnson once referred to his colleagues in the London Assembly as "great supine protoplasmic invertebrate jellies". Meanwhile, back on Kildare Street the jibe of the week from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was to call Martin "two-faced".

Fine Gael is desperate for people to see that the Opposition is calling for Donohoe to count his pennies while at the same time parading a variety of interest groups around the Dáil so they can demand pay increases or funding.

"This is a parliament, this is a democracy, this is the place where the leader of the Opposition asks questions and where I answer them.

"I am very happy to answer his questions but I do think he needs to be a bit less querulous, less sensitive and much less precious," Varadkar said this week when his opposite number argued that health assistants should get a pay increase. Martin took the time to remind the House that Fianna Fáil has "facilitated the public service pay agreements under the Confidence and Supply Agreement and it facilitated the last three budgets and in the context of Brexit has fulfilled its parliamentary duties in a constructive and responsible manner".

Fine Gael sources say it will be "open season" on Fianna Fáil between now and the summer recess.

On Tuesday, there was a clearly co-ordinated effort to suggest Fianna Fáil was going to scrap road projects based on its response to the Climate Action Plan.

Cabinet members Michael Creed, Joe McHugh and Sean Kyne issued press releases naming road projects in their constituencies, as did Minister of State Patrick O'Donovan, Louth TD Fergus O'Dowd and Leader of the Seanad Jerry Buttimer.

None of the projects was directly under threat and a variety of Fianna Fáil TDs were outraged by the attack politics, including Lisa Chambers, who described it as "fairly pathetic".

But arguably the Government party was merely stealing from the Fianna Fáil playbook. After the cost overruns for the Children's Hospital were announced, Martin's backbenchers name-checked a string of initiatives in their constituencies that were under threat. Again, there was no evidence to directly link the two.

When Varadkar took over as Fine Gael leader he was asked what he could do to prevent Fianna Fáil collapsing the Government. He said "stay ahead of them in the polls".

Cowen now says its "ratings are deteriorating" as people see "the spin associated with Leo is not all it's cracked up to be". Our crowd might be more mature than the Brits, but it's worth remembering that's not a very high bar.

Irish Independent

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