Sinn Féin will huff and puff – but it will not blow this coali­tion down

Irish Independent - - News - John Down­ing Po­lit­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dent

IT IS knock­ing on for 50 years since singer­song­writer Joe South re­leased his slow­burn­ing even­tual smash hit called ‘Games Peo­ple Play’. The melody is in­fec­tious but the lyrics, at­tack­ing po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing among other things, still have res­o­nance for con­tem­po­rary pol­i­tics, not least the carry-on at Le­in­ster House these days.

Try the open­ing verse: “Oh the games peo­ple play now, Ev­ery night and ev­ery day now, Never mean­ing what they say now, Never say­ing what they mean.”

If you’re of an age to know it – sing it loud. If you don’t know it, you have an in­ter­net treat in store.

But let me stick with the day job and tell you about its cur­rent po­lit­i­cal rel­e­vance. Now that the abor­tion ref­er­en­dum is done, Sinn Féin feels obliged to re­vive a threat to move a no­con­fi­dence mo­tion against the ill-starred Hous­ing Min­is­ter, Eoghan Mur­phy.

Mind you, let’s also note, that party’s own abor­tion tra­vails are now just be­gin­ning. Tonight they gather in Be­flast for an ard fheis which will con­sider that vexed topic.

New leader Mary Lou Mc­Don­ald faces her first big chal­lenge as this is about the only topic the party’s north­ern tra­di­tion­al­ists could agree with the DUP about.

So, it’s not a bad time to talk to the party troops in Belfast about bring­ing down the ‘Free State’ Gov­ern­ment in Dublin, while also avail­ing of the op­por­tu­nity of again high­light­ing the in­dis­putably abysmal record of the cur­rent Fine Gael-led Coali­tion on this most el­e­men­tal is­sue. It is a po­ten­tial “win-win” for Sinn Féin.

Now, who was it said that? Oh, yes, none other than Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varad­kar. On Wednesday, he warned his own troops that the dreaded Shin­ners could cause an early elec­tion and Fine Gael must be ready.

Yes­ter­day, he re­verted to hon­esty-in-dis­hon­esty Leo, with a warn­ing that there was much short-term gain for Mc­Don­ald’s com­rades in this strat­a­gem. Not least of these is an an­other op­por­tu­nity to cor­ner their real po­lit­i­cal ri­vals, Fianna Fáil.

A golden chance for Mr Varad­kar to put it out there that the next elec­tion will have a lot to do with Fianna Fáil ver­sus Sinn Féin.

The Taoiseach’s game is also not en­tirely play­ing a tra­di­tional game. It is about point­ing up the po­lit­i­cal games peo­ple play – while hop­ing we don’t no­tice that his ac­tion is also a game.

Fianna Fáil is left with the short­est hur­ley, in the most con­fined space, amid all of this. Like the other two ri­val par­ties, an early elec­tion does not suit it at all as it is stub­bornly stuck in the mid-20s in the opin­ion polls, and lacks an eco­nomic mes­sage.

But its hous­ing spokesman, Dar­ragh O’Brien, has to say it could never rule out back­ing a Sinn Féin move against the Hous­ing Min­is­ter. If hardy came to hardy, it would be hard for Fianna Fáil to be the ones fa­cil­i­tat­ing the re­ten­tion of the hap­less Mr Mur­phy in the of­fice of Hous­ing Min­is­ter – even by ab­sten­tion.

Mr O’Brien does, how­ever, give his small hur­ley a lit­tle flour­ish. He also speaks the most sense by say­ing that a change of hous­ing min­is­ter will not help a sin­gle home­less per­son find a home.

So those are the games be­ing played out by the “big three”. They have rightly fu­elled spec­u­la­tion of an ear­lier than ex­pected gen­eral elec­tion, per­haps as early as Septem­ber.

There has been cor­ri­dor talk since the re­turn af­ter the Easter re­cess that this might hap­pen.

Sup­port­ers of the the­ory say the Taoiseach might seize the ini­tia­tive be­fore a dif­fi­cult Oc­to­ber Bud­get and Brexit crunch. That might hap­pen.

Sinn Féin will huff and puff, but it will not rush to blow this coali­tion house down.

Photo: Tom Burke

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou Mc­Don­ald with TDs David Cul­li­nane and Eoin Ó Broin at Le­in­ster House.

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