PJ Cunningham: Ireland’s 2020 general election campaign begins…now

By PJ Cunningham

Something moved in Irish politics last week which could totally change the landscape for all parties in the Dáil.

By ending its Confidence and Supply agreement with Fine Gael, which has run the country for nearly three and a half years, Fianna Fail has thrown off the shackles which has bound it to support its traditional rival.

After the last election no one party could form a government by itself because it did not have a big enough Dáil majority. 

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin bit the bullet and got his party to agree to prop up its traditional biggest enemy in a minority government comprising FG and a handful of Independents.

Extensions to the original agreement have now ended.

We can therefore expect some realpolitik and old fashioned party political knockabout between now and the General Election next May.

Détente is ending at a time when the once-toxic Fianna Fail is showing a resurgence in opinion at the expense of the ruling government party and its leader.  

This hasn’t deterred Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and his most senior cabinet ministers, from painting a picture of themselves as the picture of responsibility and Fianna Fail as profligate and wanting to spend money the country doesn’t have.

FF Housing Spokesman Darragh O’Brien tried to have it both ways when he spoke of his party getting its policies into the Budget while at the same time distancing his party from decisions over which it has no say or veto.

This prompted Fine Gael backbench TD for Longford-Westmeath Peter Burke to say that by his calculations Fianna Fail ‘promises’ in the last six months alone would tot up to and €4.3 billion.

However for all their strategic planning to undermine the government, it is most probably 

Nevertheless, for all its manoeuvres and strategies Fianna Fáil’s biggest ally will still be voter dissatisfaction with the party in power.

Until this most recent run of elections Fine Gael had never been in power for more than one parliament at a time.

Enda Kenny bucked that trend by winning a second term in 2016, albeit by the Confidence And Supply agreement to support his minority government.

This means that by the time they go to the polls next year voters will have had one party dominate government for nine years.

 

Mindful of how Fianna Fáil became so complacent, with catastrophic consequences, when it last won a third term – leading to the banking crisis – Irish voters might think twice about giving FG a third successive term and decide that a change is as good as a rest.

 

 Mindful of how Fianna Fáil became so complacent, with catastrophic consequences, when it last won a third term – leading to the banking crisis – Irish voters might think twice about giving FG a third successive term and decide that a change is as good as a rest.

Opposition parties don’t win elections as much as governments lose them. 

Fianna Fáil knows it has been adroit in propping up its opponent with one hand and slapping it with the other. 

That trick though is old hat and voters now expect them to stand as a real alternative to this government during whose term the nation has gone back to full employment and a growing economy.

But it has failed dismally in the key areas of health reform and housing.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is the first politician in his position who is unable to provide pre-election sweeteners to spending departments.

He needs to be prudent at a time when the full scope of the Brexit economic fallout is still a dangerous unknown. 

Further, Green Party victories in the local government and European Parliament elections earlier this year, have persuaded him to increase Carbon Taxes – which takes money out of voters’ pockets no matter how you look at it.

Expect to hear a lot more of that “responsible leadership” mantra and one-size-fits-all answer to the opposition parties who say the government has run out of ideas and needs to be changed next summer.  

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