Dáil returns with parties set to battle over health and housing under Brexit cloud
The domestic political battlegrounds are health, housing and the rising cost of living
The 32nd Dáil looks unlikely to last beyond May next year.
The demise of the 32nd Dáil, due to its minority government, has been anticipated since its opening days in spring 2016. TDs have been on election tenterhooks for almost four years but the end is finally in sight.
The Dáil returns from its summer recess on Tuesday for what will possibly be its last full session before the next general election.
The difference between the leaders of the two parties to the confidence and supply deal - which sees Fianna Fáil underpin the Fine Gael led minority government - on election timing is only a matter of weeks.
As the novel governing arrangement begat by the 32nd Dáil reaches a conclusion, the differences between the pair are likely to be more pronounced in a number of other areas. TDs from all parties anticipate a much testier pre-Christmas parliamentary session than in recent years.
Brexit and Budget
Two of the dominant issues of the coming term - Brexit and the budget - will crowd out all others over the next two months.
The spectre of a potential no-deal Brexit hovers over the next budget and on this issue there is a wide acceptance of the need for a much tighter package than initially anticipated. This in turn could smooth the budgetary process.
Some senior figures in Government have approached each budget since the last election with trepidation, fearing the delicate act which balanced the demands of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independents could fail and topple the administration. Such fears are not as widespread this year, either in Government or Fianna Fáil.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and his Fianna Fáil counterpart, Michael McGrath, are at one on avoiding tax cuts in the October 8th package.
It is still very early in the budget negotiations process, and there is likely to be some haggling over spending measures but sources in both Fianna Fáil and the Government are tentatively predicting that the fourth confidence and supply budget will be easier to agree than its three predecessors.
The all-party consensus on Brexit is likely to hold if there is a deal and the UK leaves the EU in an orderly fashion at some point between now and the new year.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Opposition will have a significant call to make: whether to back the Government through a period of crisis or attack it for its Brexit strategy and tactics over the past three years.
Fianna Fáil and Labour have been more critical of the Government on no-deal preparation in recent weeks and Sinn Féin may attack any Brexit deal that falls short of the measures contained in the backstop.
Opposition leaders will also be alive to the prospect of snap November or early December general election if Varadkar opts to go to the country if a Brexit deal is passed by the House of Commons later this year.
Far clearer are the domestic political battlegrounds: health, housing and the cost of living.
The Government seized on figures last week showing that house prices in Dublin are dropping as evidence that its policies are working, with Varadkar and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy expressing confidence the housing crisis will be overcome by the time of the election.
The high level of homelessness, however, will be held against the Government, and Murphy and Varadkar will not be allowed to forget the figure of 10,000 people homeless in the State.
Health is the perennial political problem and the Opposition will seek to pressure the Government on repeated overspending on key projects, as well as the provision of services to the groups such as the elderly.
But, in Minister for Health Simon Harris, the Government has one of its better salesmen who has proven himself adept at escaping from political pressure.
The parties outside the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil duopoly will attempt to ensure the coming months and general election do not develop into a presidential Varadkar-Martin contest.
The Green Party will position itself as a government partner which can keep the bigger two honest on climate policy. The Greens may have an early opportunity to present such a case, with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil dropping big hints that the carbon tax increase in the Budget will fall short of the recommended €10 per tonne.
Recent opinion polls show the big two parties are neck and neck, with Fine Gael on 29 per cent and Fianna Fáil on 28 per cent, according to a Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post at the weekend.
At their respective pre-Dáil think-ins last week, Fianna Fáilers claimed voters were tiring of Fine Gael after more than nine years in power, while Fine Gaelers expressed hope that a late swing in the general election campaign would see Varadkar returned to Government Buildings.
One of the key questions of the coming months will be whether Varadkar has the hunger and capacity to pull off such a swing to achieve a third term for Fine Gael.