There is increasing speculation that the general election will take place in the last days of February or the start of March after Taoiseach Enda Kenny claimed to have finally picked a date.
Former Labour Party minister Pat Rabbitte said he believed the election will take place on February 26th, based on the timing of party Ard Fheiseanna [annual conferences].
“If one conference happens I think all the conferences must be allowed take place,” he said. As it stands, Labour is the last of three and in that case I think you won’t have long to hang around after that.”
The Fianna Fail conference takes place this weekend, followed by Fine Gael and Labour on the following weekends. Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis, due to take place on February 4, has had to be postponed until after the election as live broadcasting of the event could have been curtailed under election legislation if the election is called at the end of the month.
Kenny has been forced to postpone the election in order to put a difficult winter behind it. Heavy flooding, and the ineffective government response, has dominated news coverage in recent weeks.
Unlike other European countries such as the Netherlands, little effort has been made by successive right-wing government to control levels in Ireland’s waterways. This has left the country prone to increasingly destructive flood events as winter storms have become more numerous and severe.
Around 600 families have been forced to leave their homes since Storm Desmond hit in early December, with up to 400 businesses also closed and thousands of acres of land still submerged in flood water.
Tens of thousands of those who currently live on flood plains have been told they can no longer be insured. An estimated 50,000 property owners are now unable to get cover, and insurers are now querying cover for anyone situated within 500 metres of water. Executives from five insurance companies met Kenny, Burton and other Ministers this week, but to no effect.
The issue was raised during leaders’ questions, when the Taoiseach revealed a fatalistic approach to the floods by telling the parliament that ‘he cannot play God’.
He said the recent rains had been “absolutely devastating for many communities” but that he “cannot predict” weather events.
“I am not God and I cannot predict the extent of rainfall. That is one of the reasons we have invested in far more sophisticated, long-term weather forecasting,” he said referring to plans to set up a new rain forecasting system.
Reacting to criticism from the opposition, Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton said: “I don’t think that flooding should be a political football.”
Burton was sensitive after becoming the butt of jokes over the New Year period when she fell out of a boat she was using to visit flooded areas after it ran aground (pictured).
Private polls have suggested Labour’s most unpopular leader could lose her Dublin West seat in the general election.
This week, Burton was accused of using her last weeks in office to repay a political debt after she used a little-known clause in new public appointment rules to personally appoint former trade union leader David Begg to a state board position.
Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald has described the appointment on Thursday as “a timely reminder to voters that political cronyism is alive and kicking in the Labour Party”.