And so it begins — or at least accelerates towards a now-defined finishing line. The long-anticipated election will be held on Saturday, February 8.
Government soothsayers may hope the date is portentuous.
It falls, as every republican surely knows, just days after the 68th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to Britain’s throne, which began an era of enduring stability that democratic leaders can only dream of — even one going for a three-in-a-row election victory.
Opposition soothsayers may prefer a different February 8 encapsulation of their hopes. On that date in 1983, superstar racehorse Shergar was stolen from a Kildare stud.
The stallion was never seen again, a fate many of Fine Gael’s opponents would, in their reverie, prescribe for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his cabinet.
Whether their wishes are granted or not is an open question, as is the commitment to participatory democracy those lucky enough to have tickets for that day’s Ireland versus Wales Six Nations game in Dublin might show. Ireland’s call, indeed.
That is the setting, but the result will be decided on policies; on how promises were delivered, or otherwise; on personalities, on personal or family loyalties, and no little emotion, primarily the anger lurking, barely contained, just below the surface, in today’s Ireland.
Some of that anger is justified — the housing scandal, health chaos, climate change, etc — but more of it seems latent, just waiting to attack any target. Fine Gael’s reticence around acting quickly, and independently, on ethical red lines will stoke that anger.
The outgoing Government will try to stifle that anger by pointing to the strength of the economy and today’s near full employment, compared to the catastrophe inherited almost a decade ago.
These are substantial achievements, even ifover-reliant on foreign investment and the buffering taxes that temporary peculiarity provides.
The Government’songoing failure, in practical and ideological terms, to face the hard reality of the housing crisis, is, however, substantial, and one that may have an even more substantial impact on February 8.
Fianna Fáil will focus on this betrayal, but the Government will counter by disinterring Micheál Martin’s party’s record in office.
Fianna Fáil will try to sideline the past, but their dangerously divisive opportunism on the RIC/DMP fiasco holed that lifeboat well below the waterline. The past, as always, remains in play.
One of the expectations that may divert the usual knock-and-drag electioneering is the prospect that the Greens might win make-or-break influence.
That party has a huge opportunity but it must keep its feet on the ground. Any mention of wolves would mark them down as, at best, eccentric and, at worst, disconnected.
It seems reasonable to argue, too, that the electorate might have had more than enough of a fragmented parliament.
That Catch 22 kaleidoscope may reflect today’s Ireland, but its limitations are now all too obvious — as, sadly, are the limitations of the alternatives.
Electioneering is divisive, but there’s one issue where consensus might be profitable. Women hold a record 35 seats in today’s Dáil.
This represents a paltry 22%, up from 15%, of seats. Rebalancing this discrimination may be one of the few things we all might agree on over the next month.
It might be naive, too, to hope for a second agreed objective — an honest campaign — but when dishonesty is all too active, all too forceful, in most elections, that hope would be a valuable litmus test.