25 Nov 2017 | 08.49 am
Varadkar Backs Fine Gael Into A Corner
For the sake of her party, Frances Fitzgerald should resign
25 Nov 2017 | 08.49 am
Dail Eireann is set to vote no confidence in justice minister Frances Fitzgerald next week after Fianna Fail tabled a motion of no confidence in the minister.
Fine Gael ministers have signalled that such a move would terminate the confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fail, and that if the no-confidence vote goes ahead then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will request President Higgins to dissolve the 32nd Dail. A general election would then ensue, most likely in December.
Fitzgerald (pictured) is now in the difficult position of either resigning ahead of the Dail vote or causing the downfall of the government. If the government does founder because of what opponents see as her incompetence, Fitzgerald (67) will have to contest the election at a time when she should be contemplating retirement anyway.
Frances Fitzgerald was first elected to parliament in 1992. She was re-elected in 1997 and lost her seat in 2002. She was unsuccessful again in 2007 but won a seat in Dublin Mid West in 2011, which she retained in 2016.
Though Fitzgerald has lost the confidence of the majority of the members of Dail Eireann, Varadkar and his Fine Gael colleagues are hanging tough, declaring after a party meeting that the minister has their unanimous support.
In the 2016 election, Fine Gael won 25.5% of the national vote and their partners in government, the Independent Alliance, won 4.2%, for a total between them of 29.7%. Ranged against them on the issue of Fitzgerald’s ministerial future are political parties and groups who received 53.1% of the national vote in the 2016 general election.
Varadkar’s hubris is buttressed by opinion polls showing Fine Gael is the most popular party with voters. However, if an election is called then Fine Gael is very exposed on abortion, the issue that matters most at the moment to younger, swing voters.
Repeal The 8th
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have adopted a fudge approach to the ‘Repeal The 8th’ process currently winding its way through an Oireachtas committee. That doesn’t wash with the under-35 demographic, who are more aligned with Sinn Fein’s definitive support for repealing the controversial constitutional amendment.
‘Repeal The 8th’ could come to dominate a general election held in December or January 2018, as Sinn Fein and other left-wing parties will seize on the issue as a way of galvanising young voters. Varadkar and FF leader Micheal Martin would face the unedifying prospect of defending their fudge approach in TV debates with Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald.
Fine Gael is also on a hiding to nothing over the second issue that matters most to younger voters – the lack of council housing and affordable housing. On the plus side, Varadkar gets credit from younger voters and many of their parents too for ‘standing up to the Brits’ on the Brexit border issue. The corollary is that if there is a December election, it will be politically damaging for Varadkar and Fine Gael if they back down at the looming crunch EU summit on whether the UK’s Brexit negotiations can move forward to terms of trade.
By providing unequivocal backing to his enterprise minister, in defiance of the democratic wishes of the parliament, Leo Varadkar (pictured above) has backed Fine Gael into a corner where there is every possibility that he will become the shortest-lasting Fine Gael prime minister ever.
Going into the next election, the minimum Dail votes required to elect a Taoiseach and form a majority government is 80, assuming every other deputy votes against the person nominated (Enda Kenny was elected Taoiseach with 59 votes on 6 May 2016 after Fianna Fail abstained on the vote).
FF and Sinn Fein won 67 seats in 2016 so if they win an additional 13 seats between them in the next election they could form a majority government. Labour, Solidarity, Independents for Change and the Social Democrats account for 20 seats in the current Dail, and some of them could be tapped by FF/SF if that combination falls short.
FF leader Michael Martin insists his party won’t go into government with Sinn Fein, but many of his colleagues have a different opinion.
For all these reasons, wiser political heads in Fine Gael than the inexperienced Taoiseach will surely be urging Frances Fitzgerald to climb down from her high horse, accept the will of the majority of public representatives, and do everyone a favour by resigning.
Government after next election
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