Jim McDaid’s resignation
Jim McDaid has been semi-detached from Fianna Fail for a long time. All resignations are surprising but given McDaid’s idiosyncratic reputation as a politician, some resignations are less surprising than others. When I heard the news this morning, the facial movement was an eyebrow arching upwards rather than a jaw dropping floorwards.
The Donegal doctor was a reluctant member of this Dail. The only reason he stood – ultimately – was to block the Blaney clan: their return to the fold had caused a lot of local resentement. And the Fianna Fail whips had learned in the past year – especially since he departed the parliamentary party – that McDaid’s vote could not be relied on. He has voted against the Government, has abstained and – unsurprisingly – has not turned up at all.
There was a growing consensus that the holding of the three by-elections would spell curtains for the Government. In other words, that the General Election would be held next Spring or early summer, after the opposition had seized Waterford, Dublin South and Donegal South West.
I would have been a true believer of that thesis until a few weeks ago. But long conversations I have had with Donegal-based politicians have led me to believe that the by-election in Donegal South West was not a foregone conclusion. The constituency is geograpically sprawling and varied – the Gaeltacht, the tourist towns and fishing communities of south Donegal, and the Finn Valley to the east – and all parts are very different. While Pearse Doherty has been installed as favourite – and will probably win – SF would still have difficulty enticing transfers from Fine Gael. And vice versa when it comes to the Fine Gael candidate Barry O’Neill attracting transfers from Sinn Fein. And the dark horse of Labour’s recent recruit, Frank McBrearty junior, thrown in.
And what about Fianna Fail? There’s been a bit of argy-bargy internally between the camps of Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill and the former TD Pat The Cope Gallagher. Neither are huge fans of the other. There was a rumour that The Cope might come back to contest his own seat. But that’s a preposterous suggestion and would make a mockery of the democratic process. O Domhnaill has a strong personality and is a very hard worker and might not be completely weighed down by the Fianna Fail brand. His brother stood as an independent in the local elections two years ago and did very well. It’s small fry stuff. But it put a small question mark in my mind about this by-election being a foregone conlcusion.
McDaid’s nuclear decision puts paid to all those nice theories. We have two by-elections in prospect for Donegal and Fianna Fail can’t hope to defend both. Of course, the Government will tarry and hold off the DNE byelection as much as possible. But the dynamics of it will seep into the other constituency and take away any small momentum from Fianna Fail.
Looking at the current Dail arithmetic, the fact that the chamber is short three deputies already will not mean McDaid’s exit will imperil the Coalition in the short term.
McDaid’s vacancy means that the Dail now has 162 TDs. One is the Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk, which brings the voting Deputies down to 161.
Fianna Fail have gained one (Beverly Flynn) and lost five (Joe Behan, the late Seamus Brennan, Martin Cullen, Pat the Cope Gallagher, and now Jim McDaid). That brings its total down to 74. Three of those are outside the whip: Jimmy Devins; Eamon Scanlon; and Mattie McGrath. Only McGrath is unpredictable. So on a critical vote like the Budget, Fianna Fail should assume its predictable working vote is 73.
The Green Party has six TDs. All are solid. That brings the total to 79.
The two former PDs, Mary Harney and Noel Grealish, bring the total to 81. But Grealish’s vote can no longer be relied on so that brings it back down to 80.
And then there are the two independents Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy Rae. One or both could vote against the Government at any time, including on the Budget. So while their support brings the Government total to 82, it’s not fully assured.
So on the worst possible day, the Government could muster only 80 guaranteed vote. That’s one short of what they need for a casting vote by the Ceann Comhairle. If everybody else voted against, it would mean a Dail defeat… and a General Election.
But Mattie, Grealish, Healy Rae and Lowry are still on board. The only way that all could vote against the Governement (and force an Election) would be if the Budget was so draconian and inequitable that it was politically unsellable. Of course, that could happen. But my guess is that even with its wafer-thing majority, the Government will last until the Spring.
After that, who knows?
* with several amendments and corrections from earlier version.