Could Fianna Fail’s debt arbitration bill be the difference in Meath East?

Ah, John beat me to a good analysis of the Meath East by election. I’d go with most of it, except for the inference that party policy is no different between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. It’s a popular line in the media and particularly beloved by political rivals!

It does carries a certain truth since no one in mainstream Irish politics has ever been particularly wedded to ideology. The very first government after independence introduced eye wateringly tight fiscal controls which were first extended through Dev’s ourselves alone and then became a periodic resort in the years after Whittaker and a Lemass rewired the country for participation in the global economy.

With the political nexus of the country being anchored by STV (which acts as a policy shredder) around the parish pump, Ireland has an innately conservative political instinct that is all but inscrutable from the centre of all things things commercial and media in Dublin.

Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have lived with that inscrutability and even taken advantage of it to rain on a media that’s been very good at getting things wrong right up to the last minute.

So tomorrow’s byelection?

Sunday’s Red C poll will make grim reading for Fine Gael:

Fine Gael: 28% (no change)
Labour: 13% (+1%)
Fianna Fáil: 24% (-2%)
Sinn Féin: 14% (-2%)
Independents/others: 21% (+3%)

It’s better than being behind, sure. But, as John says in his headline (with the somewhat suggestive picture of the FF candidate and Bertie Ahern attached) the devil is in the detail..

The real battleground in Meath East is in places like Ashbourne and Ratoath. The former was little more than a bend in the road in the 1990s. Then it expanded out of all recognition during the boom and is now full of the very people who got fried mopst badly by the crash and the ensuing debt crisis.

Whilst SF’s campaign focused on the irksome but, relatively speaking, modest burden of the Household Charge, Fianna Fail left it until yesterday to unveil a piece of legislation that would, if passed in the Dail put a bulwark between vulnerable sub prime debt holders and the banks screwed them over in the first place.

It’s a leapfrog move, particularly in light of the government’s peculiarly hands off and vague proposal that banks must engage with home-owners more regularly than heretofore. It may focus the mind of mortgage holders under threat from the bank to the extent that FF are now offering them a post crisis way out of their albeit immediate problems.

In recent elections Meath East has not messed about with unclear answers. In 2007, it returned two FF TDs and one FGer. In 2011, the only candidate to hold local office in the Oireachtas was bucked out and up to the Seanad and the status quo was replaced by two FGers and Dominic Hannigan.

And, surprise, surprise, the Taoiseach got handbagged right in the heart of that greater new Dublin battleground by a disgruntled off duty Garda that ended up on the front page of today’s Irish Times

If FF can poll on or just better than the Red C poll figure the party will have completed stage one of their recovery, which is not so much to win the seat (well, it is, but that should go without saying) but to reframe the main political battle as one between themselves and Fine Gael. McGrath’s bill appeals directly to people’s anxieties. It’s hard not to think it will make a difference.

With Labour and Sinn Fein neck and neck in the Red C (with a much larger deficit elsewhere) it is hard not to envisage some kind of surge for Sinn Fein too…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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