It’s always sad when new best friends have a tiff. It seems Fianna Fáil TDs Barry Cowen and Thomas Byren were not one bit pleased when they read Saturday’s Irish Times, which told them that Fine Gael had election contingency plans in place.
Clearly contingency election plans are not quite the same as election plans – it just means that Fine Gael are aware of a general election as a possibility. Maybe they think that Leo a second time round will shake off the autism charge, and that his party could trade in its steady handling of the pandemic and get a majority of votes.
Fianna Fáil didn’t like that prospect. They know that if a general election was called, they’d be heading into it with not so much a leader as a ball-and-chain shackle called Micheál Martin, who last opinion poll got all of 14% compared to Mary Lou’s 27% and Leo’s 30% +. So of course they’re yelping that FG may be going to do a quick rerun and they’ll be eviscerated.
Leo’s lot don’t like this kind of accusation. They say they’re doing what the constitution requires them to do, in pointing to a second election as an option. Since we’re all in the middle of a pandemic, Leo’s lot would consider voting taking place over several days and allowing polling in nursing homes.
But Messrs Cowen and Byrne weren’t a bit pleased with the answer. Cowen accused FG of “acting in bad faith” and were (you’ve probably guessed by now) “putting party before country.” Mr Byrne went further: in his view the linking of an election with nursing homes was “utterly sick”.
So is it all off? Have the new best friends fallen out, vowing never to speak to each other again? Nah – don’t be daft. Leo and Micheál and Eamonn Ryan, the Green Party leader will be meeting today to see how they can patch things up.
Because the whole thing could be shadow-boxing. Maybe Cowen and Byrne are yelping to give Fianna Fail a slightly stronger hand in the final discussions about forming a government.
And maybe – just maybe – both parties are trying to take public attention away from this cobbled-together coalition as a cynical exercise by two parties who feel the wonderful two-party system they’ve had for around 100 years now could be threatened by Mary Lou’s party.
It’s a tough one: go into government and all those SF voters are going to be very irate and the Sinn Féin party could well consolidate and expand from the Opposition benches. Team up with the Shinners and form a government, and watch with horror as Sinn Féin in government uses the co-operating party as a mud-guard.
No wonder Micheál looks more worried than usual and tries to present Fianna Fáil as the party you know you can depend on.
No, Virginia, you may not ask “Depending on FF for what?” And if you mention brown envelopes or the 2008 crash and who was in government then, I’m going to be very, very cross. You know quite well that Micheál is totally secure in his leadership position and has only the interests of the country at heart.
How will it all end? Probably Micheál’s desperate desire for power will result in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil holding their respective noses and forming a coalition, while Eamonn Ryan will have beaten major Green concessions out of the Civil War parties, so major that the Greens will be safe from suffering the fate worse than death that they experienced after their last coalition thing.
Meanwhile, Leo and Micheál must above all avoid any charge that they’re re-heating a soup that the public thought they’d vomited out of their system in that general election a while back.