NOW that Fianna Fáil has honoured its extended Confidence & Supply Agreement with the current minority Fine Gael-led government to introduce its fourth annual Budget, all that remains is for the provisions announced last week to be enacted into the legislation that it has promised to support. By the time this is done, there should be more clarity on how disastrously Brexit is going to pan out for Ireland and, after that, the gloves will be off for a general election in the coming months.
Addressing his Fianna Fáil president’s dinner in Dublin last weekend, party leader Micheál Martin, TD, set out his stall for the upcoming hustings, but gave no clue as to when exactly we can expect the general election. On the one hand, he expressed his scepticism about Leo Varadkar’s proposed May 2020 date, intimating that the Taoiseach ‘might to try to pull a stroke of some sort because he thinks it will benefit him.’
Addressing the prospect of a snap election, Mr Martin said: ‘It will be up to him (the Taoiseach) to explain himself if he decides that we actually don’t need to complete parliamentary scrutiny of the Finance Bill, the Welfare Bill and of course the supplementary estimates caused by his ministers failing to deliver projects without massive delays and overspending.
‘Whatever happens we will be ready and it is now clear where the dividing lines between the parties will be,’ the emboldened ‘opposition’ leader opined. He was highly critical of the government’s poor record on the health, housing and homelessness crises, while highlighting his own party’s gains in last May’s local and European elections.
Even though its stock has waned at recent elections, Mr Martin could not resist a cut at his party’s nemesis, Sinn Féin, for leaving Northern Ireland without a voice at the very moment when its future is being decided: ‘Just imagine how different the Brexit debate would have been if the pro-EU majority in the Assembly had been in a position to pass motions in favour of a special status for Northern Ireland.’
So far, Micheál Martin has shown a purposeful and steady hand in reviving Fianna Fáil’s fortunes since the electoral debacle it deservedly suffered in the 2011 general election, but the significance of the outcome of the next one is huge for him, personally, as he cannot countenance becoming the first leader of his party never to become Taoiseach.
That he may possibly have to ultimately depend of Fine Gael to support his bid is a moot point as another minority government could be in prospect.
Interesting times ahead.