Some Predictions for 2018

Presidential Elections

There will be more than one hat thrown in the ring along with that of Michael D. One party will break rank and expect the others to follow. Already conversations are taking place within Fianna Fáil about possible candidates. Expect the niceties of ‘we all think Michael D is doing a great job’ to die down and be replaced with a full field of candidates.

Towards the end of the year expect further details about the Presidential rights referendum that is to be put to the public in 2019. There will be political consensus among the main parties that citizens in the north and the diaspora should have the right to vote.

Referendum to repeal the Eighth

Due to be held in May / June the public will vote in favour of repealing the Eighth amendment of the Constitution. There have been no opinion polls since the Oireachtas committee agreed their report a few weeks ago but previous polls have shown that the public want to see abortion provided for in exceptional circumstances. The first opinion polls based on the final committee recommendations will give an early indication of how close the referendum may be.

Sinn Féin will vote to bring its policy into line more closely with the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly at its next Ard Fheis after the referendum.

As the resultant legislation is debated in the Dáil expect to hear discussions about access for Irish citizens in the north. Abortion for up to 12 weeks will be available to Irish citizens north and south.

The referendum result will also impact on the SDLP who will eventually opt to allow members a conscience vote on the issue bringing them in line with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

As with equal marriage the policy position on abortion in the north will remain unchanged in 2018.

James Brokenshire

Will attempt to repeat broadly the same talks process again and expect a different result.

Stormont

Will remain closed. The Tories will be reluctant to introduce any joint working process with the Irish government given the DUP’s position in Westminster. Expect more fudge and can-kicking throughout 2018.

Fine Gael

2017 has seen a significantly older cabinet replaced by younger faces such as Coveney and Varadkar. Expect more conflict between the DUP and the Young Turks in 2018 who seem to have less reticence in regard to upsetting northern unionist politicians than their predecessors.

Fianna Fáil

Micheál Martin does not believe that the time suits him politically to pull the rug from under Varadkar, especially with Fianna Fáil lagging behind in the polls. He will only have one roll of the dice to become the next Taoiseach and he much prefers a Fianna Fáil led minority government to a coalition with Sinn Féin or crossing civil war lines to share ministries with Fine Gael. If Fine Gael continue to be perceived as performing strongly on the Brexit process and do not have any more political faux pas the 32nd Dáil might just make it through the year.

Fianna Fáil will not unleash a plan to take the 2019 Local Government elections by storm in the north. A softly softly approach that sees their Executive member Sorcha McAnespy stand for them in Omagh along with a handful of other candidates across the north seems the likely entry strategy. Martin will be conscious of the fact that this could permanently destabilise the SDLP in the north and he has to balance that with the expectations that have built up in his own party since this was announced in 2014. Expect an announcement early in the New Year.

Brexit Phase Two

The only certainty in regard to this is that anyone who tells you that they know what will happen in regard to Brexit over the next year is a big liar!

In Westminster the recent cohesion within the Conservatives will be replaced by friction and division as a Brexit end goal for May becomes clearer. Theresa May cannot keep both ‘divergers’ and ‘aligners’ happy all the way through Brexit so it is a question of when not if a split occurs. Labour will present themselves as being more ‘centrist’ on Brexit and the shape of the Brexit that Westminster wishes to see is more likely to be soft and cross-party after Brexiteers come off the bus . Closer to Norway than Canada. For the north a special status will also be required to keep the Dublin government happy. So chaos lies ahead. May will have to deliver on ‘no hard border’ in Ireland and that requires a form of special status that differs from Britain. Once the Brexiteers and the DUP fall out with Number 10 a softer Brexit with close regulatory alignment will have to be cobbled together with Labour or another Westminster election will have to take place.

Lord Kilclooney

Will again reinforce the view that he shouldn’t touch his twitter account with a 40 foot barge pole.

Support for Irish unity

In 2017 support for a united Ireland increased not only in the north but south of the border too.

Many will have been surprised by the recent Lucidtalk poll that showed that (at least) 48% in the north would vote for Irish unity to remain in the EU.

What is interesting about this finding is that it was in response to a ‘straight’ reunification question. It isn’t couched in a ‘soft Irish unity’ question of whether those polled would like to be in a reunified Ireland within the EU that retains a Stormont Assembly. In 2018 perhaps some of the polls could include this question to see what appetite there is for this kite that has been flown by both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin recently?

There are a lot of voters in the ‘centre’ that are currently reassessing  where their best interests lie and whether post-Brexit Britain is a political construct that they feel comfortable pledging their allegiance to. They are not republicans or even nationalists but different interest groups that feel shunned by a political system in Belfast that to them is regressive & closed-minded and a political class in London that is anti-EU and seems hell-bent on causing deep and long-lasting economic damage.

The 56ers value their freedom to travel and rights as EU citizens . They are changing their passports. Are embarrassed by the denial of equal marriage. Believe in separation between church and state. Value the contribution that immigrants make to society and recognise that immigration is crucial to our future economic success. Its easy to see why they might feel that the politics of parties in the Dáil is more in line with their own thinking than that of a combination of Westminster and Stormont.

The 2017 elections ushered in the age of the minorities where we now have both unionist and nationalist minorities in the north. The bloc of voters in the middle that tend to vote for the likes of the Alliance Party or the Greens are key to both unionism and nationalism realising their political aspirations in the longer term respectively. They have been unsettled by Brexit and some are starting to look towards Dublin rather than London to protect their interests and many will be happy with the performance of the Irish government in the recent negotiations.

In 2018 expect many 56ers from a unionist background to continue on a different political trajectory. Also expect the main unionist parties to continue to fail to provide a voice for this group on issues such as membership of the Single Market or the Customs Union.

Arlene Foster

A leader without office. The next 12 months will not be as difficult as the last year but the RHI Inquiry will not be plain sailing. If the Assembly is ever restored good luck to her in lecturing any MLA in the Chamber on being economically illiterate. The political damage to her personal brand has been substantial and though she will continue in post during 2018 her tenure remains tenuous in the medium term.

Ed Sheeran

Will hopefully not make any further mistakes in his career (such as appearing in Game of Thrones and killing ‘Fairytale of New York’)

Mary Lou McDonald

The President of Sinn Féin in waiting until the end of February. 2018 will be Mary Lou’s honeymoon period and chance to lay out how she plans to take the party forward and ultimately into government. The party received 13.8% in the last Dáil election and have been in the 15-20% range in polls since. Given Fianna Fáil’s decision not to pull the pin on the present government 2018 is an opportunity for McDonald to move Sinn Féin towards the 20% support range ahead of the next poll. Some initial polling seems to suggest that the party should get a bounce from her appointment and we should get an early indication of whether this transpires in March / April opinion polls.