Noel Whelan: A November poll in Fine Gael’s interest and voters will know it

Going early is an admission they failed to address homelessness or hospital overcrowding.

Last winter, Leo Varadkar promised to solve the crisis in hospital emergency departments. Last Christmas, Alan Kelly huffed and puffed about how he was going to tackle homelessness.Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

Last winter, Leo Varadkar promised to solve the crisis in hospital emergency departments. Last Christmas, Alan Kelly huffed and puffed about how he was going to tackle homelessness.Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

 

Such is the Government’s capacity for self-delusion that it presumes it can fool the rest of us. Enda Kenny ducked and dived several times this week trying not to answer questions about whether there will be an election before Christmas.

When pressed by journalists he reminded them the decision was his alone and then said he would “make that decision in the best interest of the country”. The first is a statement of the bleeding obvious, the second is pure nonsense.

If he were genuinely to pick the date of the election on the basis of the national interest, Kenny would be the first Taoiseach to do so. The power to name the election date is one of the most important political weapons any taoiseach holds. It is always a purely political decision.

If, as is to be assumed, the Taoiseach thinks the current Government is good for the country, then there is no reason “in the interest of the country” why this Coalition should not serve its full term.

Both Government parties tell us repeatedly how good relations are between them. Even after defections, they still hold the largest majority in the history of the State.

Many commitments in the Programme for Government remain unfulfilled even after the numerous press conferences announcing or re-announcing future plans which have been held in the last few weeks. If the Coalition parties stay in Government for the next few months, there is at least a possibility some of these outstanding commitments might be implemented.

Banking inquiry

This week the Oireachtas gave the banking inquiry an extension to finalise its report. Kenny has been one of those most vocal about how important the inquiry is. Were he to call an election for November, that inquiry would collapse.

Charlie Flanagan, who should be focused on the Northern talks for the next couple of months, suggested to The Irish Times on Monday the election should not take place until next spring.

Calling an election in the coming weeks would contradict everything Kenny has been saying for months about how the election wouldn’t be until 2016. It would also put him at odds with Joan Burton and the Labour Party and undermine their harmonious front.

The only reason Kenny would disregard all those factors and go to the polls in November would be because he felt it would save more Fine Gael seats than going in February or March.

Those Fine Gael Ministers and minders who have been quoted off the record as favouring an early election talk about how it would enable them to avoid the political impact of problems that might flare up over the winter months. They speak in particular about the political risks from a worsening of the housing and homelessness crisis or more overcrowding at emergency departments.

Economic turnaround

The outgoing Government can claim credit for contributing to the economic turnaround and the jobs recovery. That is Fine Gael and Labour’s strongest selling point in the forthcoming campaign.

There are two things, however, which threaten to undermine their chances of re-election. The first has been their inability to tackle some serious social problems and implement large-scale projects. The other is hubris. Going for an early election will bring both of those to the fore.

Do they not see how bad it looks? Do they really think calling an early election so they don’t get punished for a winter peak in homelessness and hospital overcrowding would not be seen for the cynical ploy it is?

Do they not realise that a decision to cut and run because of their failure to solve these problems undermines their pitch? They claim they should be re-elected because of their competent management of the country, yet by going early they would be admitting to fear of a backlash for their incompetence on these two issues.

Last winter, Leo Varadkar promised to solve the crisis in hospital emergency departments. Last Christmas, Alan Kelly huffed and puffed about how he was going to tackle homelessness. They have not done so. Instead of focusing on solving these problems this November, it seems they may be spending three or fours weeks electioneering instead.

Some in Fine Gael have convinced themselves they need an early election so they are safely beyond the reach of electoral accountability when homelessness and the hospital crisis become even worse. Surely someone in Fine Gael can appreciate the electorate will see through this ruse.

Whether or not we will have a November election is still unclear. One thing is for sure, however: if it does happen, it certainly won’t be because it is “in the best interest of the country”.

If there is an early election it will be because Enda Kenny has persuaded himself that it is in Fine Gael’s interest.

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