The likelihood of a snap election in the months after the Fine Gael leadership race has increased sharply after the Government party surged ahead of Fianna Fáil in the latest public support poll, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Irish Examiner Political Correspondent.
Despite both Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney ruling out a “cut and run” election, both candidates are likely to come under fresh pressure by some colleagues keen to take advantage of a perceived sea change in their party’s favour.
According to the latest Sunday Business Post/Red C poll, Fine Gael is now backed by 29% of the public, compared to just 21% for Fianna Fáil.
Sinn Féin has 15%, Independents 14% and Labour 6%.
The figures mean that Fine Gael has jumped by 5% since the last poll a month ago, Fianna Fáil has fallen by a massive 7% and Sinn Féin is down 3%, triggering fresh talk that it may be in the new taoiseach’s interests to call a snap election later this year.
Both Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney have publicly dismissed such a move in recent days, with Mr Coveney stressing the confidence and supply deal with Fianna Fáil is not up for review until autumn 2018 and Mr Varadkar denying a race to the ballot boxes may take place.
Asked at the official launch of his leadership campaign nine days ago on Saturday May 20, Mr Varadkar said “no, I don’t think there should be an early election, I don’t favour an early election”.
He repeated the view at the launch of his policy document on Monday, May 22, provided Fianna Fáil also continues to back the confidence and supply deal.
However, despite the comments, there is a substantial view within Fine Gael that it may be in the interests of the party to seek to benefit from the poll bounce a new leader would bring, while Fianna Fáil remains sceptical of the public comments by the two leadership contenders.
Although Fianna Fáil is continuing to publicly commit to the planned length of the confidence and supply deal, it held a private meeting outside the Leinster House campus earlier this month at which the potential prospect of an election this year was raised.
Those present at the meeting, who leaked information last week to the criticism of party leader Micheál Martin, said Mr Martin warned TDs must be prepared for an election at any point due to the changing circumstances within Fine Gael.
While a snap election would be a considerable risk for the new taoiseach to take, a successful result could end the minority Government nature of the current Dáil — and tighten their grip on power.
However, should it backfire or lead to little to no change in the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil dynamic, it could undermine their early reign.
Meanwhile, the chair of pressure group Women for Election, Michelle O’Donnell Keating has written to both Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney urging them to commit to a 50:50 cabinet gender split if they gain office.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.