GERARD HOWLIN: Timing is everything in politics and Fine Gael’s timing is all wrong

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Minister for Communication Richard Bruton at the announcement of the National Broadband Plan appointment. Picture: Maxwells

Timing is everything in politics. There are signs that Fine Gael has got its timing badly wrong again in the run-up to local and European elections, now only nine days away.

That’s two in a row. Five years ago, events over which they had little control were compounded by a series of self-inflicted disasters ensuring a major setback for Fine Gael. Strategically, and as significant for it as a party, was the annihilation of Labour and the resuscitation of Fianna Fáil.

In a single day at the ballot box, the political paradigm which was fundamentally reshaped to its advantage in 2011, was restyled again. Labour — Fine Gael’s most reliable ally — ended up on life support. Fianna Fáil — its only ultimate mainstream opposition — rose from the dead. Its own further mistakes in the general election of 2016 and the electoral collapse of Labour again, left further room for Fianna Fáil. That pushed Fine Gael to the pin of its collar to form a government.

What’s coming on Friday week may be a second-level election and an anaemic turnout. It doesn’t mean it’s a precursor for a general election, but it does shape the terrain on which it will be fought. Given the attention devoted to planning for this poll, and the fact that it is Leo Varadkar’s first electoral test, it is an astonishing state of affairs that €3bn later, rural broadband is the political pothole for the governing party.

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