Monday 27 January 2020

Dáil battleground may not lie where Leo and Fine Gael strategists think

Editorial Comment

With the New Year now upon us, the political focus has quickly moved to the battle for Leinster House and the looming General Election.

Now that the thorny issue of Brexit appears to have been resolved - for the moment at least and until talks on the UK's future relationship with the EU get underway in earnest - it's time for a return to more traditional Irish politics.

The most recent opinion polls which show Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael and Micheál Martin's Fianna Fáil almost neck-and-neck seem to suggest that 'Civil War' politics could be rearing its ugly head once more.

Though the much discussed green wave could seen Eamon Ryan's party become king-makers, the fight for the Taoiseach's office is firmly between the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil leaders.

Fianna Fáil - laboriously rebuilt by Mr Martin after its decimation at the ballot box in 2011 - appear more and more confident that 2020 could be the year they can return to power after a decade in the political wilderness.

Martin's party was understandably savaged by voters in the wake of the financial crisis but, after nine years of Fine Gael Government, the party has reason to be confident as we prepare to go to the polls.

As election fever mounts the main parties have been busy flying political kites over the holidays with countless unnamed 'sources' providing their take on how the parties' election campaigns will pan out.

Fianna Fáil looks likely to keep a focus on health and housing while doing their best to avoid their spendthrift auction politics of the Celtic Tiger era.

Fine Gael, meanwhile, seem to be honing their attacks on Fianna Fáil's past fiscal record while highlighting their part in Ireland's economic recovery.

That may sound good on paper but there's a very real chance it won't resonate with voters.

Given the grossly uneven nature of Ireland's recovery - which was predominantly limited to Dublin - Fine Gael's 'Keep the recovery going' slogan was a disastrous misstep that alienated many voters who had yet to see any sign of that vaunted recovery.

It's hard to see the logic in a rerun of that campaign but it looks increasingly as if that's exactly what Fine Gael's election strategists are doing. With the cost of living in Dublin making a decent standard of life a pipe dream for many in the capital, it appears even more unwise.

The economy will certainly play a part in the election but voters across the country will likely be far more exercised by the dismal state of the health service; the housing and homelessness crisis and the spiralling cost of insurance in the face of our increasingly venal claims culture.

Fine Gael has also done little to dispel the public perception of a Dublin-centric Government. Ironically, a focus on economic growth could prove costly for Mr Varadkar and his party.

Enniscorthy Guardian