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Juno McEnroe: Taoiseach’s latest election hint had air of inevitability

Juno McEnroe: Taoiseach’s latest election hint had air of inevitability

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is snookered. The days of the coalition have come to an end. Power is ebbing away, and time is running out.

It was with some inevitability yesterday that Mr Varadkar admitted he had changed his mind about the timing of a general election. Politicians may want to canvass in the summer, but when the question is all about when, rather than why, with regard to an election, the incumbent Government begins to struggle to maintain control of the political narrative.

That is especially so for a minority Government like that led by Fine Gael.

General Election 2020 is just days (potentially hours) away from being announced as Mr Varadkar indicated during his sit-down interview with RTÉ’s This Week programme.

Trying not to give away specifics about when the Dáil will be dissolved, the Fine Gael leader all but said he would make the announcement in the coming days.

We now know that the Dáil arithmetic is turning against the coalition. They no longer have the number of TDs necessary to survive a motion of no confidence. As Mr Varadkar admitted on radio, a “Taoiseach who cannot appoint their own Cabinet is a Taoiseach in name only”.

Mr Varadkar knows time has been called on the 32nd Dáil, as well as on his administration.

What we did learn from his interview was that there are some loose ends to formally tie up before an election can be called.

As a courtesy, Mr Varadkar wants to speak to his Cabinet as well as to his coalition partners — the Independent Alliance and Independent ministers. He may also inform opposition leaders.

But the “unfinished business” he mentioned includes British and EU affairs, as he put it. Government figures privately confirmed last night that efforts were afoot to arrange a meeting between Mr Varadkar and British prime minister Boris Johnson in the North this week following the successful negotiations to get powersharing back up between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

Juno McEnroe: Taoiseach’s latest election hint had air of inevitability

This meeting — if it goes ahead — could happen as early as today, giving Mr Varadkar the opportunity to have one last conversation with his British counterpart before campaigning begins here. Brexit trade talks could figure in that. But the event would allow Mr Varadkar to leave his name and face on the North’s deal.

Then there is the other matter of a visit to Dublin on Wednesday by newly appointed European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. That formality, which will again allow for discussion on Brexit, will probably have to be overcome before Mr Varadkar can launch his election.

While there are suggestions the Taoiseach may make a statement when the Dáil returns on Wednesday, he may wait until Thursday when all that “unfinished business” is done.

In conclusion, it is difficult to imagine Mr Varadkar waiting beyond Thursday to announce the general election.

The Dáil numbers are not there for Fine Gael; all policy decisions, coalition sources say, are being held back; the North is back up and running; and Brexit is not no longer an obstacle for a vote.

Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs are keen for a poll, and the only question now being asked is exactly when it will be.

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