Thursday 20 June 2019

Niall O'Connor: Fine Gael facing a huge dilemma: surrender or it's back to the polls

Fiana Fail leader Micheal Martin. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Fiana Fail leader Micheal Martin. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Niall O'Connor

It came as no surprise when Enda Kenny chose yesterday's highly eventful league final clash between Dublin and Kerry to avail of some downtime.

After a disastrous election, followed by 58 days of excruciating negotiations, nobody could begrudge the Fine Gael leader a trip to Croke Park on a Sunday.

But as the game drew to a close, Mr Kenny and the 80,000 spectators saw first hand what happens when one team tires - and blunders - at the most critical stage.

If the political events of recent days are anything to go by, a single mistake or rash move could cause the negotiation process between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to collapse.

Inside the Provost's House at Trinity College, the scene of the talks, there are several egos at work.

There are those who harbour leadership ambitions.

Others privately would be content with the talks collapsing and another election being called.

And then there are those who failed to get the call-up to Mr Kenny and Micheál Martin's negotiating squads.

With many of these TDs relying on the media for an update on the talks process, a sense of deep frustration and impatience has seeped in.

Many Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil backbenchers in particular are first-time TDs.

For some of them, the sense of pride and jubilation following their election to the 32nd Dáil has been replaced with a feeling of redundance.

This cohort of deputies treat the idea of a snap election with a feeling of absolute fear.

These are just some of the myriad challenges and dilemmas that have faced the two party leaders over the past three weeks.

It's been claimed that both parties have major gaps to bridge on issues such as rent supplement and school guidance counsellors.

This is a smokescreen.

For when Mr Kenny and Mr Martin speak again today, they know that there is only one dealbreaker on the table.

The prospect of a snap election caused solely by the issue of water formed the basis of the Irish Independent's front-page story on March 26(below).

'Axe water bills or new election,' our headline read.

Four weeks on, and that position remains - from the perspective of Fianna Fáil at least.

The demand formed a major plank of the party's manifesto and Mr Martin is - and understandably so - not prepared to break that pledge.

It is ironic, of course, that Fianna Fáil considered bringing in water charges of up to €500 in 2010.

Now, facing the luxury of another stint in Opposition, the party is demanding suspension - or else we go back to the polls.

From Fine Gael's perspective, they believe strongly in the principle of a contributory regime.

The party, too, is deeply concerned about the inevitable backlash from the 950,000 households who acted like law-abiding citizens and paid their bills.

But, despite his position of strength in terms of seat numbers, Mr Kenny finds himself on the back foot. He is in a political minefield, with each route to exit more dangerous than the next.

Mr Kenny must now decide whether to capitulate to Fianna Fáil's demands or to stick to his guns in the interests of having a properly funded water system.

It is, without doubt, the monster of all dilemmas.

Irish Independent

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