Micheál Martin must sway party sceptics on extended deal

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were quick to grab the tricolour as they announced a one- year extension to the confidence and supply deal which will bring their awkward marriage of convenience up to at least spring 2020.

With words like “stability” and “maturity” hanging in the air, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin sheepishly donned the green jersey, saying that the agreement is in the national interest.

The position is an entirely sensible response to the unfolding Brexit no-deal nightmare risk, and is worlds apart from the mayhem in Westminster.

However, despite the show of togetherness and unity and Mr Martin’s ‘taking one for the country’ mantra, he may find it more difficult to sell it to backbenchers and the party faithful.

As a direct result of the Brexit-inspired confidence and supply deal extension, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael got everything they wanted from weeks of negotiations between the parties.

An extension of the deal, possibly another giveaway budget, a 2020 election — and all at no extra cost.

It’s hard to see how Mr Martin can extract any positives to sway sceptics within his own party, with no clear gains other than vague references to introducing unstated new laws that Fine Gael says were going to be introduced anyway.

And this, more than anything else, will pose a problem in the long months to come.

Mr Martin will rightly say he was first out of the block in the autumn to publicly call on Mr Varadkar to agree to prevent any election until the March 29 date, and yesterday he waved the national flag saying the support his party is giving Government is an “unprecedented” act of national selflessness.

However, despite the real need to strike a deal to prevent a snap election just when Ireland needs it least, repeatedly hugging the tricolour and humming ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ will only go so far to placate the soldiers of destiny who include candidates needing a shot in the arm before May’s local elections.

Asked if he believes Fine Gael has won the game of poker with Fianna Fáil, Mr Coveney told the Irish Examiner that “it wasn’t a game” and that “serious times” mean Ireland needs a secure Government.

Mr Coveney also used his press conference to thank Mr Martin and Fianna Fáil for their “leadership” in Ireland’s hour of need.

And while those comments are understandable, it is difficult to shake the view that if your opponent is complimenting you then you’ve probably not won the war.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are keen to say the country is the real winner from the confidence and supply deal extension.

But in terms of day-to-day politics, there is only one obvious victor.

And, as ever, to the victor goes the spoils.

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