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Kevin Doyle: 'Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has bottled it - but with good reason'

 

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Leo Varadkar has bottled it - but with good reason. There has been intense pressure on the Taoiseach to call a snap election in recent days as his troops concluded "things can only get worse".

Mr Varadkar told ministers yesterday that 80pc of Fine Gael colleagues who contacted him about the speculation reckoned he should just go for it.

With opinion polls in their favour, Fianna Fáil on the rack over 'votegate', and Brexit put into cold storage, ministers and TDs saw a casualty-free run towards the ballot box.

"Now is our best chance," one minster said before Mr Varadkar ruled out the idea. Another suggested Fine Gael could spin collapsing the Dáil now as "the safest time" because London and Brussels are not engaging again this side of Christmas.

It's true that behind the scenes it was the younger members of Government who were most in favour of an early election, but the recent flow of 'good news' had emboldened more experienced figures too.

Yet it fell to Mr Varadkar to make a decision which he would live or die by.

If Fine Gael went on to triumph, then the glory would be shared. However, if it crashed and burned then the headline would blare: "Leo's leadership under threat."

The Leinster House bubble is a strange place that can often misread the mood of the public.

The Taoiseach knew that by abandoning his own long-standing commitment to an election next May, he would undermine the trust of voters.

However, the idea that people would obsess over an 'opportunistic' election throughout a three-week campaign is ridiculous.

It might dominate the headlines for 24 hours before we'd all quickly move along to talking about health, housing, crime and whatever is upsetting your neighbourhood.

Similarly, there is little chance that people will base their ballot on Mr Varadkar's performance during the Brexit negotiations.

No doubt, it will help form a view of the Dubliner's ability to lead but it won't be the defining factor.

Now Fine Gael will shift its attention towards trying to squeeze an agreed election date out of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

Mr Martin tells today's Irish Independent that he favours some time after Easter, which falls on April 12 next year.

The nightmare scenario for Fine Gael is that he pulls the plug in mid-January and sends politicians into the wilds of their constituencies amid the winter trolley crisis, inevitable stories about homeless families left out in the cold, and a post-Christmas credit crunch.

The new Brexit deadline of January 31 lessens the chances of Mr Martin being 'opportunistic'.

However, it all means that we are now on a very slow road to the ballot box. Every move made by the two leaders in the coming months will be with one eye on an election.

Irish Independent