Higgins home and hosed in race for Áras

Inside Politics: Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll confirms president has unassailable lead over rivals

President Michael D Higgins: 66 per cent of first-preference votes in Irish Times poll. Photograph: INPHO/Bryan Keane

President Michael D Higgins: 66 per cent of first-preference votes in Irish Times poll. Photograph: INPHO/Bryan Keane

 

Good morning.

If it was a junior B football match - with one team scoring goals and points for fun while the other chased shadows with declining levels of enthusiasm - the losing manager would have gestured to the referee to blow it all up.

This morning’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll confirms Michael D Higgins’s - barring catastrophe - unassailable lead, with the President on a whopping 66 per cent of first-preference votes. Seán Gallagher is second, just a shade behind on, er, 12 per cent, with Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Ríada on 11 per cent, Joan Freeman on 5 per cent, Gavin Duffy on 4 per cent and Peter Casey on 2 per cent.

In his analysis, Pat Leahy says Higgins is set to return to the Áras at a canter, while Aisling Corcoran of Ipsos MRBI says he looks unbeatable.

A continued focus on spending in Áras an Uachtaráin has evidently had little effect on Higgins’s electoral halo, and recent criticisms of him for skipping some broadcast debates are also likely to abate. The ridiculous - and rightly criticised - scenario of Higgins sitting out a broadcast debate on Monday while his campaign team rang in with clarifications will be replaced by the President taking part in the first six-way television debate between all candidates on Virgin Media One tonight, with another on RTÉ next week.

Anyone counting on a Higgins flameout may be distracted by the smoke coming from the direction of the Peter Casey campaign instead.

Casey has given an interview to the Irish Independent, in which he questions if Travellers should be recognised as an ethnic minority because they are “basically people camping in someone else’s land”.

“They are not paying their fair share of taxes in society,” Casey, who seems intent on causing a scrap even if the game is over, told the Indo.

Another blow-up in Brussels on the cards

The October summit of the European Council - initially slated as the one that would see agreement on the backstop - begins this evening after the weekend difficulties in the Brexit negotiations.

The convening of another summit in November to further deal with Brexit is also in doubt. Paddy Smyth reports the optimism from Tánaiste Simon Coveney is not matched by Donald Tusk.

At a meeting of ministers last night, Michel Barnier confirmed he was open to a one-year extension to the transition period - which would see the UK stay in the customs union and single market even longer after Brexit formally takes place next March - to help resolve the Irish Border question, as had been reported over the past week.

The difficulty inherent in such an idea for Theresa May was best illustrated by the headline in Saturday’s ‘Daily Telegraph’, which splashed with the story at the weekend under the headline “An extra year shackled to Brussels” . The Guardian’s weekend interpretation of the idea was as an effort to bring the DUP onside.

EU leaders will wait to see if May moves from existing UK positions over the coming days to warrant the convening of the November summit. The key sticking point is London’s demand for the backstop to be time limited.

Sources say the UK has not, in recent sessions, proposed an actual end date but is pushing for the principle of a time limit, which has been rejected by the EU. In the past, the UK had proposed the backstop only apply until the end of the initial transition period, which applies after Brexit takes effect next March.

It is envisaged the Northern Ireland backstop would be legally binding in the withdrawal treaty, but that another backstop - keeping the entire UK in a customs union - would not be as detailed.

The detail of such an arrangement would be clarified during negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship.

However, a declaration of the principle of an all-UK backstop could be included as a protocol to the withdrawal treaty, but the UK feels this would be difficult to sell politically.

The EU is said to be worried that going into too much details now could pre-empt negotiations on the future relationship. There are also concerns on state aid rules, among other issues.

Yet, some Government sources believe a deal is there to be done - if May can face down the hardliners and DUP, on whom her government relies for support.

Best Reads

Kathy Sheridan says a sitting President should be able to resign and campaign fully, rather than having it both ways, as Michael D Higgins has attempted to.

As EU leaders sit down this evening, Simon Carswell has a very poignant piece in The Irish Times this morning on what a hard border has meant in Ireland in the past. He speaks to family of a man killed at a customs post in 1972.

Noel Dorr says unionists have nothing to fear from the backstop.

In the Examiner, Gerry Howlin says the elephants in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are trampling all over the smaller parties on the grass.

Playbook

The European Council will meet in Article 50 format (without the UK) to discuss Brexit progress.

Dáil

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is on oral PQs at 10.30am. Leaders’ Questions kicks off at noon.

Sinn Féin has a PMB on tightening rules around the use of quad bikes and scramblers.

The Hallmarking (Amendment) Bill 2016 is at report and final stages.

The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill is at second stage.

The Home Building Finance Ireland Bill resumes report and final stage.

The Industrial Relations Amendment Bill 2018 is at second stage.

The Local Government Bill 2018 is at second stage.

Seanad

The Health and Social Care Professionals (Amendment) Bill 2018 is at second stage.

The Greyhound Racing Bill is at second stage.

The Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 is at committee stage.

Committees

A busy day in the committee rooms includes a session with the Land Development Agency at the Housing Committee, which Kitty Holland previews here.

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