Following the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis last weekend (24th & 25th of February) the inevitable talking point of Confidence and Supply began to make headlines once again. You could nearly set your watch to this daft conversation putting its head above the parapet. It’s a tired conversation that the main stream media(MSM) is forced to wheel out every two to three weeks or so to fill column inches and make headlines. Confidence and Supply stories polluted the national discourse this week.
The Confidence and Supply agreement was put in place between Government (Fine Gael & Independents) and Fianna Fail to ensure the stability of Government for three budgets, it was always a bit of fudge and has been on a knife edge since day one. The budget delivered last October saw the official end to the C&S arrangement between the Government and Fianna Fail but Brexit had raised its ugly head by then, and Fianna Fail agreed to extend the arrangement for 12-months more. Critics of the move said it essentially amounted to Fianna Fail writing a blank cheque for Varadkar for 12-months, but in reality Micheal Martin was saving himself and his party from an inevitable crushing defeat in a general election.
The 2019 Fianna Fail Ard Fheis saw the finest piece of theatre the country ever saw performed over two days, as Micheal Martin and his party swamped the City West Hotel on the outskirts of Dublin City. Micheal spoke as though he were not the defacto Tainiste in a Fine Gael/Fianna Fail coalition, despite that being what he basically is.
Micheál Martin used his Ard Fhéis address to urge members to row in behind the party’s decision to keep Fine Gael in power in light of Brexit. While contemporaneously launching a scathing attack on the Government’s record in health, housing, and rural development. He signalled that the party is poised to ramp up pressure on Government following Brexit. Brexit really has been the saving grace of Fianna Fail as his party consistently lag behind Fine Gael in the opinion polls.
Fianna Fail’s Ard Fhéis was the first time the entire organisation gathered since the leadership decided to extend the Confidence and Supply deal. Mr Martin rejected the idea that the decision did not command majority support or posed a threat to his leadership, saying delegates had a very “nuanced view” of the situation.
Leo Varadkar will take comfort from the latest political opinion poll which was published by the Sunday Business Post last weekend. The poll was published on the second day of the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis and gave the party no comfort at all. In spite of the recent nurses' strike and scandals over spending for the National Children's Hospital, Fine Gael lost just one point according to the poll and still head the leader-board at 31 percent. Fianna Fail continue to trail behind them by 7 points and are up 2 points to 24% in the RedC poll. However, Sinn Fein were the big winners, up 5 points to 18%. Sinn Fein’s seismic jump has certainly put Fianna Fail on high alert, as the socialist republican party narrow the gap between them and the once natural party of Government.
Fine Gael has designed three different candidate posters which will be used in the event that a general election falls on the same day as the local and European votes. The decision was taken by party chiefs, who have ramped up election preparations in recent weeks as relations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have deteriorated, to design three different styles of posters to ensure voters can tell the difference between General, Local, and European candidates. It is understood that Fine Gael has also sought the services of long-time party activist and election strategist Mark Mortel.
All these preparations come despite the fact that Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has ruled out a general election in 2019, irrespective of any extension to the Brexit timeline . Mr Martin said it was a "no brainer" for the confidence and supply deal to be extended in light of Brexit. He said any Brexit extension would probably be only until June or July, adding that he had committed to giving the Government space for 2019.
On Tuesday of this week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar claimed that Micheál Martin is "always either wagging the finger or sniping from the sidelines". The comments, which were made by Varadkar when speaking to reporters in Egypt, sparked a vicious response from Fianna Fáil with senior Fianna Fáil TDs accusing Mr Varadkar of political arrogance and of being a "walking anticlimax" as Taoiseach.
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