Election 2016 campaign off to shaky start all-round

Inside Politics: New poll comes at bad time for Coalition as countdown to vote begins

Enda Kenny addresses Fine Gael candidates and supporters in Dublin on February 3rd. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Enda Kenny addresses Fine Gael candidates and supporters in Dublin on February 3rd. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

 

The general election campaign got off to a shaky start yesterday, but the great quake came this morning with the results of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll.

The Coalition parties did not exactly bounce into the campaign. Instead, this poll portrays a balloon about to burst.

The results confirm the Coalition faces an uphill battle to return to government.

Fine Gael takes a 2 per cent hit, bringing it to 28 per cent, while Labour remains 7 per cent.

It will be Fianna Fail toasting the latest results, having picked up 2 points to reach 21 per cent. The party’s nearest rival Sinn Féin has fallen to 19 per cent.

The results show the Coalition is well below the level required to win a successive second term.

It will be news no Fine Gael or Labour TD will want to wake up to this morning as they prepare to hit the ground running.

It follows poor initial press conferences by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton.

Mr Kenny was asked about this fiscal space his Ministers have been harping on about for the last few weeks.

He did not want to get bogged down in that pesky economic jargon; people would not understand, after all.

Over at Labour HQ, we were still wondering who the boss of the party is. Alan Kelly reckons he is his own boss, but the Tánaiste insists he is an employee and an obedient one at that.

Inside Politics podcast

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail and Sinn Féin held their own press conferences yesterday. It was the issue of Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy that dominated the Sinn Féin questions and follows a BBC Spotlight programme on the former IRA member. Gerry Adams is confident it won’t play a key role in the campaign. I wouldn’t be so certain.

Micheál Martin took aim at the Taoiseach. Enda Kenny is running away from debates and sending Leo Varadkar to fight his battles for him, according to the Fianna Fail leader. We cannot really disagree with that assessment; we would probably do the same in Enda’s shoes.

It is only day two of the campaign and it has been a lacklustre start all-round.

The results of the latest poll will no doubt serve as a timely reminder that this election is far from won; the battle is just beginning.

Talk of “recovery” and “stability” is wearing thin. The recovery is not being felt by everyone and the more the two parties promote it, the more disillusioned the electorate becomes.

And despite their best efforts, all the mud-slinging at Fianna Fail has only served to benefit Micheál Martin’s party, it seems.

This will not be the only poll conducted in this general election campaign, but for the Coalition, it is a bad one at the worst time.

A fond farewell

It would be wrong to let a day like yesterday pass without wishing a fond farewell to some of the TDs retiring from political life.

Former tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Leas Ceann Comhairle Micheál Kitt and former ceann comhairle Séamus Kirk are among the many who have decided to call it a day.

Colour writers across the country will particularly mourn the loss of Socialist TD Joe Higgins and former leader of the Labour party Pat Rabbitte.

Neither will contest the general election and yesterday marked their last day as public representatives.

With them they take a wealth of political experience but they also take a mountain of the humour, wit and entertainment the Dáil has to offer.

Mr Higgins’s most famous line came in his questioning of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern. He described debating Mr Ahern like playing handball with a haystack - hearing a brief “thud” and nothing coming back.

Mr Rabbitte’s most famous one-liners probably came outside the chamber. My colleague Marie O’Halloran reminds me he had many fighting words for Mr Ahern.

His contribution to the Oireachtas banking inquiry gave one of his most memorable quips, when he poignantly pointed out to Fianna Fail Senator Marc MacSharry that talent often skips a generation.

We would like to think the 32nd Dáil will bring just a flavour of the two TDs, but we sincerely doubt it.

- Have a listen to our finest political gurus Harry McGee and Stephen Collins discussing the poll results on the Inside Politics podcast.

- And keep an eye on the full general election coverage from The Irish Times here.