Sinn Féin will huff and puff – but it will not blow this coalition down
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.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald with TDs David Cullinane and Eoin Ó Broin at Leinster House.