Friday, 13 Dec 2019

John Downing: 'No-confidence motion is an 'attention plea' by Social Democrats – but it's a dangerous game'

Politics is not for the faint-hearted, even on a good day. And it’s especially wearing for people in the smaller parties.

So, to some degree we can have sympathy with the Social Democrats tabling a motion of no confidence in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy. Right now it seems that the fledgling centre-left party is not registering much with people at all.

The latest RedC ‘Business Post’ poll puts the party on 2pc.

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Its two co-leaders, Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy, have a good profile nationally and locally, and are among the most hard-working politicians at Leinster House.

But both of them appear a more natural fit for the Labour Party, which counts pointless divisions on the left ground among its many challenges.

The ‘Soc Dems’ do not appear to be going anywhere, their weekend by-elections showing was very poor, and you would really wonder what the point of their existence really is.

Realpolitik tells us the no-confidence motion is an attention plea more than anything else. But, given the current Dáil arithmetic, the party should be careful what it wishes for.

Yes, it is hard for anyone outside of Fine Gael to vote confidence in the Housing Minister given the slow progress on remedies for the housing crisis.

Critics find his ‘posh boy’ image an easy target for facile criticism.

The net loss of one seat reduces Fine Gael’s tally to 48 TDs. Its Louth TD, Peter Fitzpatrick, resigned from the party a little over a year ago and the Dublin Mid-West loss of former minister Frances Fitzgerald’s seat cost it another.

Less encouraging news is that the outgoing Cork North-Central TD, Dara Murphy, who is set to resign from the Dáil very soon, will be present for this no-confidence vote. But his presence amid ongoing controversy about his attendance record and expense entitlements will be another reminder of Fine Gael’s urgent need to do some overdue housekeeping.

Fianna Fáil will honour its confidence and supply undertaking and abstain. But Fine Gael may still need to recruit up to 10 Independent TDs to see off this motion. It will be looking to people like Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish, Denis Naughten, Peter Fitzpatrick and some others to come onside. There may well be some drama before this one plays out.

Yes, there is even an outside chance of an election being triggered by a Government defeat. Some speculation centres around a potential polling date of December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Avoiding another political slaughter might involve one or other of the Independent TDs having to remember an urgent funeral that must be attended.

The point about the Social Democrats’ gambit is that it could conceivably take us somewhere we do not want to go right now politically. So, while this bid to seek attention is entirely understandable in politics, it remains a dangerous game.

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