By Frank Connolly
Rumours and predictions of an Autumn election have been spreading like summer gorse fire over recent weeks with reports that Fine Gael is preparing its national advertising campaign for a run to the country soon after the October budget.
A number of factors could point to a November campaign including the opinion polls that have consistently placed Fine Gael as the most popular party and the fact that the results in the recent Carlow Kilkenny by-election suggest that it could rely on the handful of right-wing independents likely to be elected under the Renua or Shane Ross banners.
The meltdown in Labour’s vote in a constituency where it held a seat over generations could also influence the decision of the senior FG strategists as to when to pull the plug on the coalition, although their junior partners have not yet conceded that their future is completely bleak.
Labour can point to the agreement reached with public-service workers which will put €2,000 in the pockets of low- and middle- income workers over the next two years as well as restore pay for higher earners and provide assurances to employees across the health, education and local-authority sectors that their jobs will not be outsourced. It can also argue that the election should be delayed to the new year until the benefits of these pay increases and the expected tax and USC concessions in Budget 2016 reach public- and private- sector pay packets.
The sale of Aer Lingus was an undoubted blow to Joan Burton’s troops, even though the government stake had been diluted in significance by Fianna Fáil all those years ago, but other legislation – albeit less than robust – which recognises collective-bargaining rights for workers will appeal to the working-class base which has been deserting the party over the past four years.
The by-election results show that Lucinda Creighton’s project could throw up enough seats to get her into cabinet in an FG-led government. The Ross gang too are solely interested in cabinet seats. This all serves to diminish the chances of Enda Kenny having to distastefully share power with the old enemy, Fianna Fáil.
The by-election also threw up a potential interesting development on the left of the political divide. This is because Sinn Fein’s Kathleen Funchion (16%) and the hard-left candidates from People before Profit (PBP) and the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) (with 4,500 between them) took 1,500 more first preference votes than the victorious Fianna Fáil candidate, Bobby Aylward.
The efforts to develop an alternative platform or charter for the left bringing SF, smaller parties, Left TDs such as Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Thomas Pringle, Catherine Murphy and others together with the Right2Water unions and community groups will continue at a meeting in Dublin in mid-June.
Already the prospects of an agreement embracing all these elements looks dim given the reluctance of PBP and the ‘pure’ socialists of the AAA to engage with others who do not accept their rigid positions on a range of issues, including how to run a civilised policy debate.
Others on the trade-union, SF and independent-left side of the equation are unhappy with any suggestion that the Right2Water movement could or should be transformed into a political party.
However, if a loose alliance were to develop a charter of credible policies on taxation and spending, and on the solutions required to fix our ailing public services, the low-wage economy and widespread poverty it could increase the numbers of left-wing candidates, and the numbers elected to the next Dáil.
Meanwhile, the latest controversy surrounding the Fine Gael’s most prominent and richest supporter, Denis O’Brien, and his dealings with IBRC and Siteserv, as well as his other recent acquisitions, has no doubt served to focus the minds of party strategists on the benefits of a November election, before the next crisis is too far down the tracks. •