Wednesday 19 December 2018

Laura Larkin: 'Everyone's ready for election - but UK chaos keeps it on back-burner'

  

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Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

They were barely on the M50 and the pretence about not wanting an election was dropped - the message from the opening moments at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis was that it is election-ready.

It was a threat, not a promise - but there were promises aplenty too.

Tax cuts that would cause Charles Haughey to blush, a new focus on climate change, and even a review of history being an optional subject in schools.

It was all good natured "banter"; the photos for the posters were taken, the printing machine was well-oiled, according to senior ministers.

The Opposition could criticise "our Leo" all they liked, but he was a policy man at the head of a formidable operation, delegates were told.

For his part, the Taoiseach was keen to underline that the party did not want an election - reminding people it had proposed a 2020 election date to Fianna Fáil in order to navigate through Brexit.

But his protestations fell a little flat against a backdrop of everyone from Tánaiste Simon Coveney to the party's executive council chairman, Gerry O'Connor, talking up their "readiness".

Across town in Dublin 4, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin appeared to be trying to gently point out being ready for elections was the reason d'etre of political parties, not an achievement in itself - lest anyone consider how ready his own party really is to take on the party it has been keeping in power since 2016 in a gamble of substantial proportions.

Amid the election talk, the Taoiseach reminded reporters that the timing of an election was not only in his gift - Fianna Fáil and even Fine Gael's Independent partners in Government could trigger an election any time they felt like it.

But that was a spin the Fine Gael 'Winning Streak wheel' would have been proud of because, let's be clear, with Brexit looming and chaos reigning in Westminster, the gift of an election has been firmly taken out of the hands of those on these shores.

There can be no movement until it becomes clear whether the House of Commons will support the draft withdrawal agreement painstakingly negotiated over the past two years.

The outcome of the election will also certainly be largely influenced by those movements too.

Privately, the hope in Fine Gael is that even if the deal falls at the final hurdle, they will maintain the boost from having held a firm line and protecting Irish interests.

But in the event of a no-deal Brexit, all bets are off. People are unlikely to think favourably on the fact that they almost had it if the country is struggling with the reality of a chaotic exit.

So for all the bravado and bluster, the party events this weekend were really just a pleasant distraction for TDs as they wait out events across the water.

Irish Independent

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