Wednesday 19 June 2019

Laura Larkin: 'Precarious road lies ahead for all in this marriage of convenience'

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Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

The marriage of convenience between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will go on for the foreseeable future in the "national interest" - but it is not without risks for both parties.

For Fianna Fáil, the rollover appears a politically savvy move at a time when the appetite for an election tallies nicely with the inappropriateness of forcing one amid the Brexit turmoil.

Micheál Martin has positioned himself as a political leader who can be trusted to put the country first, who can swallow the bitter pill of underpinning a government he doesn't support so as to protect the national interest.

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Confidence and Supply 2.0 has also paved the way for a ramping-up of Fine Gael bashing for the Opposition party. The first hint of this was spelled out in the lengthy preamble to Mr Martin's announcement that the inevitable break-up has been postponed.

There was, on the part of the Government, a "chronic deficit in delivery, the failure to understand public concerns", he said.

For Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his Government, it is another year in power at a very low cost. Legislative pledges have been made but delivery may be slow, if the past few years have been anything to go by.

The precariousness of Brexit has allowed both Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar to show a level of political maturity.

But there may be stumbling blocks ahead for both sides.

For Fianna Fáil, it will be another bruising year for the party and its grassroots. The agreement to date has proved a sore point, with TDs often complaining that they are "getting it in the neck" from their base for keeping Fine Gael in power.

How long the membership can be placated with the reasoning that Brexit trumps all remains to be seen. But Fianna Fáil's standing in the polls has been dropping throughout the agreement.

Mr Martin frequently says he holds no store in polls, but it's undeniable that the next snapshot of the public sentiment will make for interesting reading.

Budget 2020 will also be telling. Negotiations on the previous three have taken place in relatively limited parameters, but already there is an acknowledgment that this one will be more of a battleground.

Fianna Fáil will need a significant win as Fine Gael will be doing its best to engineer an election budget.

For Fine Gael, the coming year brings Brexit. A successful Brexit will see Mr Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney hailed as master negotiators. A rocky exit or a cliff edge will put their approach under the microscope.

And then there is the Fianna Fáil private hope that, given enough road, the wheels will come off the bus and Fine Gael will be its own undoing.

Anyone who has opted to stay in an unhappy marriage for the 'sake of the kids' will know it is a precarious road. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael may learn this the hard way.

Irish Independent

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