Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil: relations come under new strain
Increasing tensions between the two parties suggest an election is approaching
The increasing tetchiness between the two big parties was evident in the Dáil this week when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar accused Fianna Fáil of behaving dishonestly by going around the country promising ever interest group they will get what they want this year. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters
The looming expiry of the confidence and supply arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil has prompted some robust exchanges between the two parties and generated renewed speculation about how long the current Dáil can last.
The increasing tetchiness between the two big parties was evident in the Dáil this week when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar accused Fianna Fáil of behaving dishonestly by going around the country promising every interest group they will get what they want this year. He followed this up by reportedly letting rip at Fianna Fáil at the weekly meeting of his own parliamentary party.
This drew an indignant response from Fianna Fáil, with party finance spokesman Michael McGrath insisting that all the issues being raised by his colleagues were within the budgetary parameters.
There is no disguising the change in the mood music between the two parties. Although they are both committed to ensuring the passage of one more budget through the Dáil in October, the gloves are already coming off in anticipation of what will happen after that.
The increasing political tension comes at a time when the stakes for the State could not be higher. Brexit negotiations are entering a critical phase in advance of the October deadline for the withdrawal agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
The outcome of this process is vital to this State’s future both in terms of retaining a frictionless border on the island and maintaining the freest possible trade arrangements between the Republic and Britain.
October will also be decision time for the Government on the precise measures to be taken in next year’s budget. Pressure is mounting on Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe from political sources and a variety of interest groups. The Minister has stated his intention to resist unsustainable spending increases but his colleagues in Government – never mind the Opposition – will be seeking to persuade him to take risks with the public finances.
The Government is also facing problems over internal cohesion with the Independent Alliance looking increasingly fragile. The row between two of its members over which of them should be a minister for the last lap of the 32nd Dáil is damaging and unseemly.
The political temperature will rise once the abortion referendum is out of the way in a month’s time. A motion of no confidence in Minister for Communications Denis Naughten was only avoided because it had the potential to derail the referendum campaign.
Once the people have had their say on the serious issue of abortion, party politics will resume with a vengeance.