Sunday 18 August 2019

Opening shots an insight into an election campaign of negativity

WE may not know when the next general election will take place but the starting gun for the campaign was fired over the weekend.

Fine Gael Chief Whip Paul Kehoe's comments about Enda Kenny's ambition to stay on as Taoiseach for 10 more years, a bizarre statement given Kehoe's position and political experience, were seen by many as the first shots in a phoney war before the campaign proper gets underway

While the election has not been called, and it would appear likely it won't be until next spring, two 'unofficial' announcements from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over the weekend kicked off the electoral battle and they gave a clear indication of how the campaign will probably play out.

It would appear that, as many have expected, the next General Election campaign will be a case of 'anyone but Sinn Fein'.

The most significant news of the weekend came from Fianna Fáil who are now prepared to support a Fine Gael minority government. Though not an official announcement, Fianna Fáil's historic policy shift was confirmed by senior party figures Niall Collins, a close ally of Michael Martin, and Willie O'Dea.

Martin himself refuses to be drawn on Fianna Fáil's post election plans but that the comments came from such senior figures there can be little doubt that they reflect the party's true position.

With the party still languishing at around 18 per cent, the shift in policy shows the party, which once would not have even considered being a junior coalition partner let alone supporting a minority government, is now taking a more realistic approach.

But the move to back Fine Gael would have numerous benefits. It would bolster their efforts to block Sinn Fein, now their greatest rivals. It would also allow them get some of their policies adopted by government while still remaining in opposition and avoid too a potential junior coalition partner drubbing.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael are far less circumspect about their plans to thwart Sinn Féin on polling day. In an interview with The Sunday Independent, Junior Minister Simon Harris pulled no punches in stating that he believes "terrorist" Gerry Adams should not be allowed anywhere near a cabinet table.

The interview in which Harris, a prominent supporter and ally of Enda Kenny, also made a number of vague personal commitments on the universal social charge and pension hikes, a clear indication as to how Fine Gael will fight the election. Though a personal interview, it's highly unlikely that Harris' comments were not cleared by FG's back room staff and press officers.

Attacks on Sinn Féin are nothing new but the forthright and stringent nature of Harris criticism has set a tone which we can expect to see ratcheted up more and more by Sinn Féin's undoubtedly nervous rivals as polling day looms closer.

At the next election Sinn Féin could well be king-makers but a deal with Adams' party could be step too far for some.

It will be a fascinating campaign and voters can expect one of the most hard-fought and negative election campaigns the country has ever seen. Right now all bets are off.

Opening shots an insight into an election campaign of negativity

Wexford People

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