BEFORE the Dáil returned this week from its two-month summer break, TDs and senators from the various parties had their annual ‘think-ins’ at various venues across the country as they brace themselves for next month’s non-giveaway budget, Brexit in whatever shape it comes and, of course – foremost in the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s mind – a general election, which he would like to hold next May
Ideally, the Fine Gael leader wants to have Brexit pigeon-holed and appropriate measures in place to deal with its fall-out, have done the St Patrick’s Day global trade missions (and availed of their photo opportunities) and taken part in the EU leaders’ summit in March before calling the election for May. But, he may not get his own way on this as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin could pull the plug on the Confidence and Supply agreement under which they are propping up the government once the provisions of Budget 2020 are enacted in early Spring.
Opinion polls last weekend showed Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil running neck and neck. The Taoiseach even acknowledged that, should FF emerge as marginally the larger of the two parties after a general election, FG would have to consider talks with them about forming a government.
However, one must question whether the country really needs another weak minority government where two similar centre-right parties, divided only by tribal enmities of a bygone era, continue to prop one another up. Such lame duck leadership will struggle to get us through the difficult times that lie ahead.
As for the other parties – mostly bit players in the bigger scheme of things – Sinn Féin badly need to reverse their electoral downturn since Mary Lou McDonald took over as leader, Labour have huge room for improvement, Solidarity-PBP and Áontú have their own niches, while the Green Party and Social Democrats will feel emboldened by recent successes and, of course, there are the ubiquitous independents who often become kingmakers.