After a roller-coaster first week in office, the new Varadkar administration would have viewed their second week as a cake walk by comparison. With both sides of the house still smarting from a row over judicial appointments, they were all keen to move on. “We definitely do not want to cause a needless election” seemed to be a common refrain in the corridors of Leinster House in the aftermath. It’s possibly more accurate to say that no one wants to be the one seen to cause said election, unless it’s for a very good reason. The Máire Whelan affair ultimately didn’t meet that litmus tests.
So, it was onto the bigger stage that the Taoiseach and leader of the Opposition ventured to escape the wrap on the knuckles dish out to both by Chief Justice Susan Denham. The EU Summit came at just the right time. There Leo got his first chance to play statesman. By all accounts he did well, highlighting again the need for special status for Northern Ireland within the EU post-Brexit and an invisible border. This was after stern comments by his Fine Gael Deputy Leader, Simon Coveney, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, in Stormont. There he spoke of the need to get the institutions back up and running and how the British Government must make good on its side of the Good Friday Agreement. The threat of blocking any Brexit deal if they don’t makes for a distinct change in the Government’s approach to the upcoming talks. They certainly are talking tough but behind closed doors we’ll see what happens to talks in Stormont in the coming week. In all, it was a positive week for the Government on the international front which could bode well for their longevity after all. For Micheál Martin, a welcome break to the ALDE group pre-Summit meeting meant a tumultuous week of activity could be left behind him along with postponing the weekly Parliamentary Party meeting.
Domestically though, the honeymoon is well and truly over for the new cabinet already. Reports of ructions between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance at cabinet resurfaced over the Judicial Appointments Bill. The Judiciary are once again up in arms over the same proposed legislation. Added to that, new Housing Minister, and Varadkar campaign manager, Eoghan Murphy suffered the ignominy of being the first of Leo’s ministers to suffer a defeat in the Dáil as the Green Party celebrated a rare victory. Their motion on the establishment of an independent building regulator proving popular with all parties outside of Government. It’s not the first time the Government has lost a vote in the 32nd Dáil, but it is very quick for the Varadkar Administration to have lost their first.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things to happen politically in the Republic in last week, however, was the publishing of the Boundary Commission report. It was common knowledge that the review was complete for the past couple of weeks which might explain certain quarters reluctance to push for an election. What transpired was, on the face of things, minimal change. Two extra seats over all. Three constituencies gaining a seat. Two constituencies being merged and losing one between them. However, it is the little boundary changes that are perhaps most interesting of all. Psephologists were quick to pour over the details and consult their tally figures from February of last year. Local communities were quick to register their joy/outrage (delete as appropriate) at being moved. The merger of Laois and Offaly looks to spell bad news for Sinn Féin who’s Carol Nolan looks likely to lose out. Fine Gael on the other hand will be delighted with the extra seat in Cavan-Monaghan. The Social Democrats and Fianna Fáil will eye up the extra seat in Dublin Central, along with the additional area that comes with. This should leave the two parties fighting it out for the new fourth seat. Many counties are brought back together with Mayo, Clare, Tipperary among those reclaiming lost land. These could well affect the outcome of the next election too.
Kildare South though is the most interesting of the additional seats. With the automatic re-election of Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, this will effectively remain a three-seater at the next election. Should Fianna Fáil find a vote winner of the calibre of Ó Fearghaíl to join the ticket with Fiona O’Loughlin, they could well repeat the result of 2016 and add another seat to their ranks. The other interesting result of the commission report is the removal of a chunk of Dublin North West into Dublin Central. From tallies figures, this would appear to hit sitting TD Noel Rock of Fine Gael hardest as his final count buffer over Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe would appear to be wiped out. The final seat there, if the figures were to be repeated, would be far too close to call.
Nevertheless, all parties and independents will be pouring over the figures long and hard over the coming weeks. Assuming the Dáil passed the report, which has not been in question in modern history, expect some intensive polling to be conducted. If the report is as favourable to the opposition as it first appears, perhaps the odds on an Autumn election will shorten even further. At least that’s good news for poster companies. Seeing as many of those in the North do a lot of business with candidates in the South, come election time, it might serve as great impetuous for the Dublin Government to ensure there are no tariffs between the North and the Republic in the Brexit talk. The Devil, as they say, will be in the polling companies’ details.