The Irish Times view on the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal: No need for an election

With a critical budget due in the autumn and the Brexit process on a knife-edge, the two big parties should put their political ambitions on hold for now

Leading members of the Fianna Fáil front bench sense that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wants an early election to capitalise on the jump in support his party has received since he became leader just over a year ago. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Leading members of the Fianna Fáil front bench sense that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wants an early election to capitalise on the jump in support his party has received since he became leader just over a year ago. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Only time will tell whether the tetchy exchanges between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in recent weeks represent the opening salvos of an autumn election campaign or are merely political point-scoring in advance of the Dáil summer recess.

Fine Gael Ministers have been talking up the possibility of an election in the autumn on the basis that the Government cannot continue in office if it does not have certainty that the confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil will be renewed. For its part, Fianna Fáil says it will honour its commitment to allow the next budget through the Dáil, along with the ancillary finance and social welfare Bills, but it will not engage in negotiations for a renewal of the deal until after the budget.

There is political logic behind the positions being adopted by both parties. Once the confidence and supply arrangement runs out, Fine Gael has no guarantee that Fianna Fáil will not pull the plug the moment it senses weakness.

The manner in which Frances Fitzgerald was forced to walk the plank last November is still fresh in the minds of Fine Gael minsters, who have little doubt that Fianna Fáil will move in for the kill again if the Government finds itself on the ropes.

On the Fianna Fáil side, the party believes it has honoured the confidence and supply agreement in spite of provocations. Leading members of the front bench sense that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wants an early election to capitalise on the jump in support his party has received since he became leader just over a year ago.

While the Taoiseach might be tempted to go to the country he must know that it would be a huge political gamble. If he is seen to be manipulating the political situation for party advantage he could find his lead in the opinion polls evaporating in the course of a campaign.

He also faces the reality that even if Fine Gael increases its number of seats in the Dáil he could still find himself in opposition if Fianna Fáil decides that trust has been broken and it opts for a coalition deal with Sinn Féin.

For his part Micheál Martin also faces a big political risk if he is seen to be acting unreasonably by refusing to provide the guarantee the Government needs to continue in office. The next election represents his final chance to become Taoiseach so he will need to play his cards very carefully to ensure that he is not the one blamed for precipitating an early election.

That said, given the current parliamentary arithmetic, the Dáil will hardly last for a full five-year term. However, with a critical budget due in the autumn and the Brexit process on a knife-edge, the two big parties should put their political ambitions on hold until next year at the earliest.

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