ALISON O'CONNOR: Electioneering is already under way but what do we know so far?

The US media would laugh at what is being described as ‘negative campaigning’ here, writes Alison O’Connor

THE general election is almost upon us. It hasn’t been officially called yet, but this week it finally felt like a campaign of sorts had begun.

The following are some incredibly well thought out election-related points, as well as some entirely random ones.

-The Taoiseach has a date for the general election in his head but he won’t tell us.

-Fine Gael is secretly optimistic it might get an overall majority although it is categorising this under “wildest dreams”. Either way the party is confident, bordering on cocky.

-Labour isn’t sure what to think.

-Fine Gael says it wants to go back into government with the Labour Party.

Electioneering is already under way but what do we know so far?

-The Labour Party doesn’t trust Fine Gael. It’s dead right. If it can, Fine Gael will eviscerate its junior coalition partners, with hardly a backward glance.

-Labour’s gay marriage advert that never was is the best thing that party has done so far in this pre-election period. It displayed a much needed sense of humour.

Electioneering is already under way but what do we know so far?

-Fine Gael makes hardly a single move without passing it through a focus group first.

-In a case of don’t fix it if it ain’t broken, Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be taking his usual minimal approach to media debates and any opportunities for close questioning.

-Expect to see and hear a lot from Fine Gael ministers Frances Fitzgerald, Simon Coveney, Paschal Donohoe, and Simon Harris. Michael Noonan will be used on just a handful of “important” occasions. On the other hand James Reilly will in all likelihood be taking a holiday from the national airwaves for the duration of the campaign.

-On the available evidence Fine Gael looks likely to bypass the usual publication of a general manifesto and will simply bring out a supplement with Independent Newspapers. Most of the detail has been leaked there (and carried on the front pages) anyway.

-No more boom to bust, the Taoiseach keeps telling us out of one side of his mouth, and out of the other side comes yet another vote-buying wheeze involving the USC or “US-style taxes”.

-The Tánaiste is at almost exactly the same lark. Think Brown Thomas this time, rather than Tesco.

-Fianna Fáil won’t coalesce with Sinn Fein.

-Fine Gael keeps bringing this up as an active possibility so that we’ll see a vote for Fianna Fáil as a vote for Sinn Fein.

-Fianna Fáil won’t coalesce with Fine Gael. If it did, it would ultimately be cannibalised. But who knows what any of them might do in a post-election frenzy?

-Fianna Fáil can’t seem to tell us then how they might make up the numbers to get into government.

-Overall Fianna Fáil appears not to know its arse from its elbow at present. The party’s coalition strategy begs far more questions than it will answer.

-How long will it be before Fianna Fáil’s “coalition discipline” breaks down and the loyal frontbench members decide to revert to old habits and put forward their own views? Anyone spotted John McGuinness lately?

-Sinn Féin has been busy making the moves on Fianna Fáil recently but says it would only coalesce if it is the larger party post-election.

-It said the same about Labour, but ruled out Fine Gael altogether.

-It’s worth having a look at a tweet by @electionlit, showing a #ge16 chart as to who is or is not going to go in with whom. Given the Lanigan’s Ball complexities involved, this was an act of public service. As someone subsequently tweeted, the graph looked like the outcome of a bad speed-dating session. The various and varying party positions would certainly have the making of a good pub quiz round.

-People before Profit/Anti Austerity Alliance(PBP/AAA) are refusing to go near Sinn Féin with a barge poll, despite them all being on the left of our rather narrow political spectrum.

-Sinn Féin has signed up to the Right to Change political grouping but it’s clear that PBP/AAA see them as the cuckoos in the nest and vote-grabbing chancers.

-At any rate it is hard to see the relationship between PBP and AAA lasting much beyond polling day in the unlikely event they were to attempt to negotiate any sort of Coalition deal.

-Independent TDs are looking to be called just that on the ballot paper — independent, instead of non-party, as is currently the case.

-But Shane Ross, Finian McGrath, Michael Fitzmaurice, and Tom Fleming et al are also part of the “Independent Alliance”, a political grouping seeming somewhat at odds with their independent status.

Electioneering is already under way but what do we know so far?

-Funnily enough, given they are all independent TDs, with widely differing views, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. A non-starter.

-Fine Gael’s director of elections is MEP Brian Hayes, a man whose decision to opt for Brussels showed a good realisation of the Taoiseach’s selective and unfair grudge-holding abilities. Interesting though that Hayes is seen as talented and cunning enough to play such a pivotal role.

-Billy Kelleher is performing this role for Fianna Fáil but the Cork TD appears to be reluctant to spin the party line to journalists — a key part of the job — after admitting before Christmas that his party is unlikely to be part of the next government, and would “probably” go into opposition if it was not the largest grouping in any new coalition.

-Labour has a seriously dysfunct-ional backroom election operation.

-It’s a fairly safe bet that even if Alan Kelly had been anywhere near that boat which Tánaiste Joan Burton fell out of in Kilkenny she’d still have ended up getting herself out of the water. Kelly is the party’s director of elections but apparently lacks the ability to “bring people with him”. Brendan Howlin, not someone known as being especially close to his leader either, heads up a separate election committee. Too many cooks anyone?

-Health Minister Leo Varadkar has been throwing his toys out of the pram over the health services. Why wouldn’t he? He’s learning that when you’re in there you’re on your own as far as Cabinet colleagues are concerned.

-Even if Gerry Adams is intending to stand down he wouldn’t tell us. So Mary Lou is going to have to keep pretending he’s the best thing since sliced bread.

Electioneering is already under way but what do we know so far?

-Expect various people and parties to throw doubt on the results of forthcoming opinion polls. They’re at it already, Fianna Fáil in particular. It says its support is understated, and is probably correct.

-The US media would laugh at what is being described as “negative campaigning” here. In truth, it is simply campaigning.

-The media is obsessed with the “coalition question” which does favour Fine Gael overwhelmingly. It’s worth noting a speech given by BBC director of news James Harding after the British general election last year. Bear in mind the coalition question was a new and novel media obsession during that campaign, unlike here. Harding said the polls allowed numbers to infect the BBC’s thinking and there was too much “coalitionology” which directed the narrative of the news coverage and not enough on policy. Irish media take note.

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