The Week in Irish Politics

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.

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  • Nevin

    “This was after stern comments by his Fine Gael Deputy Leader, Simon Coveney, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, in Stormont”

    The stern comments were met with a stern rebuke from the DUP’s Christopher Stalford:

    .”The Irish government has no jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, yet in the past week it has proceeded to voice opinions and meddle in matters which are entirely for the Northern Ireland Executive.

    We will be meeting with the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister and urging him to respect the three stranded approach as outlined in previous Agreements.

    So much for ‘neutral’ UK and Ireland ministers!

  • Damien Mullan

    No one for a second believes that the UK government advocates for the nationalist/republican community, a community which would within a second sever the Union. Likewise, no one believes the Irish government advocates for the unionist/loyalist community. When almost half the population in NI is nationalist/republican unionists can’t advocate an absolutist position in relation to jurisdiction, not if they are truly seeking stability and the daily functioning of NI. They tried that absolutism until I came crashing and burning around them in the late sixties, and subsequently propelled the region into low grade inter-communal strife and conflict.

    Unionists have their British government, the nonsensically objections of the DUP in relation to the Irish government’s position in these negotiations illustrates the lack of respect and esteem they have for their northern nationalist/republican neighbours, when northern nationalists look to any national government, it is to the Irish government, this is something the DUP and unionism have never understood, because the operative word is ‘Irish’ government, as Irishmen and women we hold greater faith in any shade of Irish government over any shade of Westminster government.

    Unionism’s attacks on the Irish government, especially when it references jurisdiction, is very well understood by northern nationalists/republicans as a passive aggressive attack on them.

  • Zeno3

    “When almost half the population in NI is nationalist/republican”

    I got that far into you post. If you can show any evidence of that I’ll read the rest.

  • Damien Mullan

    I take it you don’t dispute that religion is a great determinant in prophesying who will win what seats at General, Assembly and Local elections in NI, then we must deduct that religion is the most accurate indicator in the census returns of national identity and political aspiration, i.e. nationalist/republican voters being reflected in votes for the SDLP and Sinn Fein, plus the edges of this analysis need further rounded off when the census returns draw in the blanks of those who don’t actually vote, by ascertaining religion, remember that in both the Scottish and EU referendums, voter turnout was up considerably over General or Devolved elections, these constitutional referendums have shown to supercharge turnout, so NI General or Assembly elections will not be entirely sufficient when gauging the size and composition of the population that exists, and thus the likely demographics of those that turn out on the day of a border poll vote.

    Take the Assembly election with a turn out of 65%, Sinn Fein, SDLP and PBP, no one seriously suggests PBP voters are unionists, their vote change in the last two elections corresponds with Sinn Fein’s, they both swim, as does the SDLP, in the same voter pool. Which brings us to 41.6%, plus a percent or two from the Alliance Party’s 9.1% of the electorate, and a few tenths of a percent from the Greens, would bring you near 45% of the electorate. I assume most of us can agree that a vote to preserve the union would be expressed by the majority of Alliance Party voters, say 7% of its 9.1% share of the electorate, with the same true of the Green Party electorate.

    Now that leaves those who don’t vote, but who would be likely to vote in a constitutional referendum of such historical importance, just as was the case in 1998, and in the recent Scottish Independence referendum and the UK wide EU referendum. It’s been significantly alluded to over the past 10 years or so, by political commentators and political scientists, that voter apathy appears to be greatest within nationalists/republican areas.

    Now we turn to religion and analyse the 2011 census, a census which is now 6 years old, and given the declared Catholic population has been increasing close to 1% each decade the census has been carried out, we can deduct that the Catholic population stands a further 0.5% larger than it did in 2011. That brings the Catholic population of 40.8% in 2011 to a probable 41.3%. What is then left to deduce is the portion of 16.9% of the population that is No Religion/None Stated is from a Catholic background, and thus likely a Nationalist/Republican background. At 41.3%, it only takes 8.7% +1 of that 16.9% No Religion/None Stated segment to be from a Catholic or Catholic background, for us to conclude the probability of a Nationalist/Republican majority.

    Now I stated, “almost half the population in NI”, but as you can see it doesn’t take that much deducting to even approach an outright majority, never mind a near majority.

  • chrisjones2

    One thing I note this week. As the talks ground towards the inevitable collapse i met many people who mentioned it and the response was universally the same…. waste of bloody time, useless twats, don’t give a damn if they fold it or not