Election 2020: First blood to Micheál, and he didn’t even have to work particularly hard for it

It would be a little unfair to describe Micheál Martin’s disposition as cocky at Fianna Fáil’s campaign launch event. But he certainly seemed composed. Confident even.

Election 2020: First blood to Micheál, and he didn’t even have to work particularly hard for it

It would be a little unfair to describe Micheál Martin’s disposition as cocky at Fianna Fáil’s campaign launch event. But he certainly seemed composed. Confident even.

And that was even before tales of Fine Gael’s electoral woes on the campaign trail began to drift in.

Between a homeless man being assaulted in his tent on the Grand Canal and suffering serious injuries as a result, all under a poster of housing minister Eoghan Murphy, and Leo Varadkar facing the wrath of the marginalised childcare workers and VAT-payers of Co Cavan, day one of the 2020 General Election couldn’t have gone much worse for the Government.

Mr Martin was joined by Dara Calleary and Senator Catherine Ardagh for his opener. Ms Ardagh’s presence was interesting - she missed out by just 40 votes last time out. Perhaps bigger things are expected of her in 2020.

Members of the Gardaí at the scene along the Grand Canal in Dublin today. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Members of the Gardaí at the scene along the Grand Canal in Dublin today. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Not that either of his two companions said a word. This was the leader’s show alone.

Mr Martin was deliberately short on policy specifics at the event, however, perhaps understandably given the Fianna Fáil manifesto isn’t out yet.

Pensions, gender quotas, budget plans. All were dealt with with a swift “yes that is a point, something must be done”.

Still, you get the impression the party’s strategy will be to go the ropes like Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa and let their old enemy punch itself out before hoovering up the spoils. It worked reasonably well in 2016 after all.

Back then Fine Gael faced similar problems with its message of recovery. This time out it appears stymied by a combination of being in power for nine years, having at least three major domestic crises on its hands on the election date, and an inability to pin down what its campaign should be about.

Mr Martin would do well to be wary of complacency. Fine Gael wants this vote to be predicated on the economy and Brexit, and, certainly in the latter’s case, a bounce may well come as we close in on January’s end. And after all, all politics is local. There’s a long way to go, and there’ll be pitfalls aplenty, before this race is run.

Still, the Fianna Fáil leader appeared in high spirits and happy out with his softly softly approach.

The closest he came toward opprobrium with the Government was an expression of disbelief that Leo Varadkar should call for a statement from Dublin’s Fianna Fail Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe regarding the incident involving the homeless man.

“He called for what?” he said when asked about it. “That’s extraordinary. That’s not how I would do politics.” First blood to Micheál, and he didn’t even have to work particularly hard for it.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar being helped to put on a high visibility jacket ahead of a factory visit to the shop floor of Combilift in Annahagh, Co. Monaghan after launching the Fine Gael's general election campaign. (Liam McBurney/PA Wire)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar being helped to put on a high visibility jacket ahead of a factory visit to the shop floor of Combilift in Annahagh, Co. Monaghan after launching the Fine Gael's general election campaign. (Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Regarding the suggestion that Fianna Fail is not to be trusted having led the country into a cataclysmic recession when in power, he was a little dismissive.

“They (Fine Gael) have been banging that drum for quite a while now,” he said, before contending that the economic recovery seen since had been kickstarted by the late Brian Lenihan’s deeply unpopular austerity policies in the aftermath of the crash.

Data courtesy of Irish Times

The closest he came to a hiccup was the issue of the composition of any prospective Fianna Fail front bench. The presence of Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins in the frontlines in the wake of Votegate wasn’t even close to being ruled out by Martin when asked, while Lisa Chambers, of course, was never removed in the first place.

Instead he turned the matter back on Leo the Impatient, for calling the election and thereby nixing the Dáil investigations into the Fianna Fail trio who were caught red-handed voting for each other in the Dáil chamber.

“The Taoiseach did write to me last week saying that before there was a general election he wanted these issues resolved. We accepted that. The Taoiseach dissolved it, and that’s where we are now.”

Then there is the other issue that could yet come back to bite Fianna Fail - its leader’s doubling-down on his party’s commitment that it won’t go into Government with Sinn Fein.

“I’ve outlined reasons why, in terms of how that party operates,” he said. Time will tell if that’s a promise he’ll be able to keep.

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