The Outlook is Blue
Deaglán de Bréadún
Nothing is certain except death and taxes but the polls do suggest that a Fine Gael-led government is a strong possibility if, as many currently expect, a general election is held in the next six or nine months.
Enda Kenny – not everyone’s cup of tea? (Photograph by David Sleator)
We know from the last two general elections that the public mood is fickle and can shift or modify fairly dramatically in the lead-up to polling day but, as things stand at the moment, the odds definitely favour FG. So maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the main opposition party and its attributes.
Issues that might be considered include the leadership of Enda Kenny – chairman or chief, in Brian Farrell’s famous phrase; the Fine Gael alternative to Nama – hands up everyone who understands it (I do, because it’s my job, he said smugly); the richness or paucity of talent on the party front bench; the likely divvy-up between FG and its presumed inevitable bedfellow, the Labour Party; etc. The following thinkpiece written by yours truly for the print edition of The Irish Times after the FG ”think-in” at Cavan this week may be of interest in this context:-
The mood at the Fine Gael think-in was a mixture of joy and apprehension,
writes DEAGLÁN DE BRÉADÚN
IS FINE Gael finally about to come in from the cold? The party has spent
years in the wilderness and even its brief stint in office from 1994 to 1997 was
the result of parliamentary manoeuvring rather than a decision of the
The party has not come directly to power via a general election since 1982.
But such are the vagaries of Irish politics that the next battle looks like
being a one-sided affair, with Enda Kenny s party firmly in the ascendant.
The mental state of parliamentary party members as they assembled in Cavan
this week for their annual think-in could best be described as delighted
uncertainty or joyous apprehension .
The opinion polls and the local elections last June have told them they are
virtually certain to be the biggest party the next time, if the people get a
chance to decide on the matter in the near future.
However, the economy is in a mess and Ireland (or Dire Land as the
Financial Times calls it) is suffering more than most from the effects of the
A similar gathering of TDs, Senators and MEPs took place this time last year
in Co Clare. The mood on that occasion was one of expectancy as compared with
the current nervous jubilation.
Although Kenny is not securing the kind of poll figures that his party
colleagues would like to see, insiders say there is no threat to his leadership.
There is an acknowledgment of his skills in the area of party management and
the fact that he has brought Fine Gael from the doldrums to the cusp of power.
The fact that the obvious alternative, finance spokesman Richard Bruton, has
shown no immediate interest in taking over the job is a help. And as Kenny
pointed out on yesterday s Morning Ireland, Mary Harney was scoring high poll
results at a time when the Progressive Democrats were attracting minimal
The one name you didn t want to mention in Cavan this week was Alan Dukes.
The former party leader had criticised Fine Gael policy on the banks as
cumbersome and lacking in clarity. It is an understatement to say this was not
appreciated by his former colleagues and the type of venom normally reserved for
Fianna Fáil was redirected towards the author of the Tallaght Strategy .
The big question on everyone s mind was, of course, the likely date of the
next general election. There was no unanimity on this, with some suggesting it
would come before the end of the year while others felt sometime in the first
half of 2010 was more likely.
Only a very few believed the Government could last any longer than that.
Having had to put up with secure Government majorities for a 10-year period, the
main opposition party is taking a keen interest in the waverings of the Green
Party and FF backbenchers.
Thinking aloud, most will say that the Greens are unlikely to vote themselves
out of office. When would they get another chance to be in government and to
implement even a modest element of Green Party policy? But there is an awareness
at the same time that events can take an unexpected turn.
The pronouncements of Fianna Fáil backbenchers excite more interest and
expectation. These TDs are being closely watched for any sign that they will
jump ship on the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) legislation or, more
likely, the forthcoming budget.
Looking to the longer term, there is the possibility that, having got Nama on
the statute book and approved the budget, the Soldiers of Destiny might move
against their leader if the polls keep telling them there is no way Brian Cowen
can lead them to victory in the next general election.
As regards Nama, the Fine Gael parliamentary party seems content to leave it
to Bruton to make the running. He is not for turning and the watchword of Fine
Gael in general at the moment is, steady as she goes . If the polls are right,
power will fall into the party s lap before too long.
And then their problems will really begin.