The joke could be on Fianna Fail if it dis­misses Fine Gael’s po­lit­i­cal an­tics

Paschal Dono­hoe has key role as Fine Gael’s hard man if post-Brexit elec­tion spec­u­la­tion proves cor­rect, writes Philip Ryan

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Politics -

MOST Fianna Fail­ers spent the week just gone laugh­ing at Fine Gael’s ef­forts to fill the po­lit­i­cal void be­fore the Dail re­turns with elec­tion spec­u­la­tion.

First, Long­ford-West­meath TD Pe­ter Burke was out the blocks with his re­port on Fianna Fail’s €3.5bn spend­ing de­mands last year.

Burke de­cried what he called Fianna Fail’s “scratch­card eco­nomics” and in­sisted the party should care­fully cost all fu­ture spend­ing de­mands.

Fianna Fail took the bait and so we were forced to en­dure a de­bate be­tween Burke and Fianna Fail’s Thomas Byrne on RTE Ra­dio 1’s Morn­ing Ire­land. The tired, on-air po­lit­i­cal scrap was as be­liev­able as a 1990s Wrestle­ma­nia ti­tle fight. There will be a lot of this in the com­ing months so try feign in­ter­est.

But, in say­ing that, Fianna Fail has a ten­dency to weigh in be­hind any in­ter­est group seek­ing a sip from the foun­tain of the Ex­che­quer.

You only need to show up out­side the Dail with a plac­ard mak­ing some sort of a de­mand for cash and Micheal Martin is likely to men­tion you dur­ing Leader’s Ques­tions.

Any­way, af­ter the silly ra­dio row it emerged Fine Gael was or­gan­is­ing a spe­cial par­lia­men­tary party meet­ing ahead of the new Dail term. And it wasn’t just for TDs, sen­a­tors and MEPs.

Re­cently se­lected gen­eral elec­tion can­di­dates who are not mem­bers of the Oireach­tas were also told to be in at­ten­dance to hear an ad­dress from Fine Gael’s new elec­tion hard-man Paschal Dono­hoe.

Yes, Pru­dent Paschal is Fine Gael’s di­rec­tor of or­gan­i­sa­tion, which to all in­tent and pur­poses means he is the party’s di­rec­tor of elec­tions for the next gen­eral elec­tion.

A pre­vi­ous in­cum­bent of the role was the orig­i­nal Fine Gael po­lit­i­cal bruiser Phil Ho­gan. Dono­hoe may not have the po­lit­i­cal grav­i­tas of Ho­gan just yet but he has nav­i­gated the party through some treach­er­ous bud­getary de­bates and is well used to say­ing no to his col­leagues when they come knock­ing with the beg­ging bowl.

But con­stituency pol­i­tics is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent game and he will no longer be in the safe sur­round­ing of his of­fice on Mer­rion Street with his Star Wars toys.

Some in the party are wary of the ap­point­ment, with one min­is­ter say­ing: “Will Paschal even know the can­di­dates’ names?” Pos­si­bly un­fair, but there is a view the Fi­nance Min­is­ter is some­what re­moved from the cut and thrust of grass­roots pol­i­tics.

But back to the main point: Fine Gael stok­ing elec­tion ten­sions be­fore the Dail re­turns. With­out doubt prepa­ra­tions for a snap elec­tion have con­tin­ued un­abated in both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. The at­ti­tude is that if any sort of Brexit deal is struck then all bets are off. All this play­ing happy fam­i­lies in the na­tional in­ter­est stuff is out the win­dow.

This is es­pe­cially the case for many in Fine Gael where there are even some hop­ing for a gen­eral elec­tion in May on the same day as the Euro­pean and lo­cal elec­tions.

There is lit­tle chance of this hap­pen­ing and there is no ap­petite in the se­nior ranks of ei­ther party for such a sce­nario. But that is not to say you can dis­miss the idea en­tirely.

In­ter­est­ingly, one of Dono­hoe’s first moves in his new role was to in­struct all Cab­i­net min­is­ters to visit a des­ig­nated con­stituency in the next three months.

“The con­stituency visit will be or­gan­ised through the (Fine Gael) re­gional or­gan­iser and must be un­der­taken be­fore the end of March 2019,” the email read.

The end of March, of course, also be­ing the same time when the Brexit with­drawal agree­ment is sup­posed to kick in. Whether this hap­pens is an­other thing al­to­gether.

But let’s say that by some mir­a­cle of faith Theresa May does get her delin­quent par­lia­ment to sign off on the pro­posed EU exit deal or even gets an ex­ten­sion on when she needs to reach a de­ci­sion.

Micheal Martin’s Brexit cover will be blown and there will be no ex­cuse for prop­ping up Fine Gael any longer.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael would like to use the lo­cal and Euro­pean elec­tions as a bell­wether to gauge their na­tional sup­port.

Varadkar and Fine Gael are the un­der­dogs go­ing into the lo­cal elec­tions and have a huge amount of ground to make up af­ter los­ing more than 100 seats in 2014. So con­se­quently the pres­sure is ac­tu­ally on Micheal Martin.

The fo­cus in Fianna Fail has been on re­build­ing the party’s stand­ing in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties since Martin was ap­pointed leader. It worked five years ago but ex­pan­sion will de­pend on how deep they can cut into Sinn Fein’s ground ma­chine.

There is an im­pres­sion Fine Gael is not fo­cused on the lo­cals and is more dis­tracted by the seem­ingly end­less prepa­ra­tions for a gen­eral elec­tion. There is a be­lief they can­not do any worse than 2014, but they could.

Fianna Fail, mean­while, may laugh at Fine Gael’s po­lit­i­cal an­tics but the joke might be on Micheal Martin and his party if Varadkar does de­cide to pull the plug if Brexit is parked for a sig­nif­i­cant length of time.

‘We will have to get used to tired po­lit­i­cal scraps be­tween the two par­ties’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.