Will Irish voters care about Brexit whenever Varadkar calls election?

Will Irish voters care about Brexit whenever Varadkar calls election?

II has been quite the week in politics, filled with expectation, nerves, and dollops of anxiety and crankiness. And that is just in Leinster House. The public are not the only ones who want rid of Brexit.

Our politicians are truly weary of it, not to mention how entwined it has became with their job prospects. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s hand might be strengthened by Brexit, in his bid for a second term, or weakened by it.

Politicians can pretend that they don’t pay attention to opinion polls, but that Irish Times/IPSOS MRBI poll on Tuesday, showing that the Taoiseach’s personal rating has risen by an incredible 15 points since May, and also showing a 42% satisfaction rating with the Government, was a jolt of much-needed good news for Fine Gael.

Those figures certainly burst a bubble for Fianna Fáil, whichhad seemed to be building momentum. What makes it all the more difficult for that party is that not even it can take from the Brexit performances of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, and European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee.

Will Irish voters care about Brexit whenever Varadkar calls election?

The poll numbers reflect an entirely justified boost on the back of this effort. It is easy to imagine that if there had been a separate poll on the performance of Coveney, as he criss-crosses Europe, attempting to broker solutions, he would have scored even higher than the Taoiseach.

The Corkman would not be human if he did not occasionally reflect on how his Trojan efforts — think of the time missed from his family life — make his boss look so good in a job that he himself had badly wanted.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s figures were also up in that poll, a rise of three points, to 38%, but significantly behind Leo. Despite the very positive figures for the Taoiseach and Government, satisfaction with the Fine Gael party remains at 29%, with Fianna Fáil dropping one point, to 25%.

That Fine Gael remain somewhat stuck will have provided a little comfort to Fianna Fáil. But it is difficult to interpret this result and to make political sense of it. However, a further boon for Fine Gael is that more than half of those questioned said they believed the Government was doing a good job on the economy.

Within the poll itself, there are other figures of interest to the political parties. For instance, despite all the efforts that Fianna Fáil have made in Dublin, their support there is only 19%, compared to 34% for Fine Gael.

Incredibly, Sinn Féin is at only 7% in the capital. This was just one of a set of depressing numbers for Sinn Féin, not least the serious dip in support, over time, for the party, which is at 14%. Leader Mary Lou McDonald has a 30% approval rating, a drop of three points since the last poll.

It was a shock to see that, when broken down by gender and marital status, she has only 10% support from women, compared to 17% from men. Mary Lou is a woman under pressure.

But a man who needs to reflect on the profile of his party support is Mr Martin. Fianna Fáil’s largest support base by far is the over-65 age group, at 41%, while in the 35-49 range, it is 20%.

The over-65s are also the highest support group for Fine Gael, but overall, that party’s support is far more evenly spread through the different age groups.

It is true that older people are far more likely to actually vote and attracting a younger vote is a challenge for most political parties, but that sort of an age profile for Fianna Fáil surely causes pause for thought.

If Mr Martin becomes the next Taoiseach, the passage of time alone will ensure that he needs to try and do something about the age profile of the party support base. To put it crudely, time is a serious factor when the people who vote for you are reaching the end of their lives.

I guess this week, Fianna Fáil made some effort to broaden its demographic appeal — whether younger, Dublin commuter, or ‘greener’ — when the party put forward a bill for electric scooters.

Such detailed party support figures were not available for the Greens, apart, of course, from the overall support for the party, which has doubled to 8%. We know, from previous experience, that the age concerns that should be preoccupying Fianna Fáil are not something that the Greens need to be concerned about.

Where stands the Labour Party? Well, Labour remains in the doldrums. A head of steam had already been building for an Irish general election, but this poll has really ramped things up, putting politicians on all sides on edge.

The talk was that an upcoming general election, with a three-week campaign, would see the first few days (or longer, if Fine Gael have their way) taken up with that party’s sterling Brexit efforts. But do people care about Brexit, or are they tired of an issue that has preoccupied political minds and dominated the media?

But, again, the opinion poll shows six out of 10 voters approving of the Government’s handling of this issue.

Fianna Fáil has to walk a fine line. It doesn’t want to be seen to be curmudgeonly about the Government’s Brexit efforts by stifling too much laudatory chat. That party will be gagging to bring the focus of a general election campaign onto the health service and homelessness.

It is not easy to be Taoiseach at the moment, with such a high-stakes decision to make about when to call a general election; nor is it an easy time for the politicians, opposition or otherwise, waiting to hear how soon they are to be put before the people who decide on their future.

It is a very wearying waiting game for them.

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