Fine Gael’s impending crisis of leadership…

For understandable reasons tomorrow’s news in Northern Ireland and Britain will be dominated by the long awaited arrival of Lord Saville’s long awaited (and stashed for politically motivated reasons) report on Bloody Sunday. We will no doubt be doing our best to  bring you the coverage. But the big events in Irish politics may be happening south of the border.

Part the first: the full meeting tomorrow morning of the Fine Gael parliamentary party who are thought to have been utterly freaked by the Irish Times poll at the weekend when they saw themselves being pipped for top slot by the Labour party. According to Stephen Collins and Mary Minihan, Enda Kenny’s long suffering and popular deputy Richard Bruton has been garnering support for a leadership bid.

Part the second: if there is anyone more freaked than the leading opposition party by the same poll, it is Fianna Fail, with Brian Cowen earning himself just gets a satisfaction rating of just 18 per cent, marginally better than his party’s rating of 17%. To complicate matters, the feverish, if largely sub rosa, speculation on the health of the most popular member of the cabinet Brian Lenihan, adds a ship of doom air to the whole affair.

Part the third: there are three outstanding by elections in the state, the anniversary of the most longstanding of which (caused by the co-option of Pat the Cope as the successful Fianna Fail candidate in Donegal South West) passed last week. There’s also former minister Martin Cullen’s old seat in Waterford and poor old George Lee’s hastily abandoned seat in Dublin South. Of these it is likely they should go 1 to Labour and 2 to Fine Gael, leaving FF dependent on a couple of independents rather than the five it currently has.

In this context, nerves are clearly being rattled on both sides. A vote of confidence in the government has been tabled tomorrow night, which will suit Labour and Sinn Fein and given the turmoil amongst Fine Gael, probably no one else. As the Irish Times piece notes:

A Fine Gael spokesman said last night that after taking 70 years to get ahead of Fianna Fáil for the last 25 polls, the party was not going to be distracted by “a panicked over-reaction by some to one poll, the authors of which have already stated that the polling methodology will be amended”.

The polling methodology has been the same since it was introduced in 1999, though I didn’t notice the party dissing it when they rose to an unpredecented lead last year. And as Stephen Collins notes, “Kenny has every incentive to fight to the finish and test the strength and courage of his opponents to the limit.”

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