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Saturday 10 December 2016

Andrew Lynch: Picking a date may be the easiest part of Enda's re-election

Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D
Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D

Enda Kenny has put away his starting pistol. After a week of messing around, the Taoiseach finally caved in to Labour yesterday by going on RTE television and confirming that the General Election will be in early 2016.

Kenny and his rivals look like Olympic runners who thought the finishing line was in sight, but have just been told there are another few laps to go.

So now that we know the election is probably around 100 days away, what are the biggest hurdles that Kenny must jump in his quest for a historic second term?

1. The budget.

Tomorrow the Government will play what it hopes is a trump card when Michael Noonan stands up in the Dail and does his best Santa Claus impression.

The Minister for Finance is expected to give away at least €1.5m, with cuts to the Universal Social Charge, a new tax credit for the self-employed and a childcare package among the goodies.

However, Noonan's something-for-everyone' approach comes with a big risk attached. It looks as if few people will benefit from this budget by more than €20 a week, which is not a lot given how much has been taken from us since 2008.

If the jam is spread too thinly, then voters might look at their payslips next January and stun the Government with their ingratitude.

2. A winter health crisis.

Before the 2007 general election, Enda Kenny appeared on posters with the slogan: "I'll end the scandal of patients on trolleys."

The coming months are likely to show just how badly he has failed. At an emergency meeting of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation last week, Health Minister Leo Varadkar was warned in no uncertain terms that our emergency departments are close to collapse.

If a flu epidemic were to cause even more chaos in Irish hospitals this Christmas, the political consequences could be huge. Varadkar himself has warned that "heads would have to roll" - but maybe not the heads he has in mind.

3. A winter housing crisis. Ireland's homelessness scandal was exposed last December when Jonathan Corrie died close to Leinster House.

Another man perished on Dublin's Westmoreland Street over the weekend and, as the temperature drops, there is every reason to fear that more tragedies are on the way. While Environment Minister Alan Kelly has angrily insisted that enough resources are available, campaigners such as Fr Peter McVerry have said the situation is as bad as they have ever seen it.

Events such as these play right into the opposition's hands, allowing them to claim that our economic recovery has done nothing for the weakest members of society.

4. Irish Water.

According to the latest figures, 51pc of customers have now paid their first water bills. In other words, the battle for public acceptance of this gaffe-prone utility could still go either way.

Since Irish Water has been leaking credibility for almost two years, the Government badly needs to get that compliance rate up. It doesn't help when the company keeps generating bad headlines, such as last week's revelation that 53 employees received higher salaries than they asked for.

5. The Banking Inquiry report.

This was supposed to deliver a death blow to Fianna Fail, but it hasn't quite worked out that way.

Incredibly, Enda Kenny had a tougher time at the public hearings than Bertie Ahern or Brian Cowen, as the Taoiseach struggled to explain what he would have done differently. The committee's report in January is likely to be a damp squib, leading to accusations that the Government has wasted taxpayers' money on a pointless political kangaroo court.

6. The unknown.

Some banana skins are easy to spot, others seem to come out of nowhere.

This Government has a bad habit of landing itself in unnecessary scrapes, with last week's spat over the election timing being a good example. If another one flares up early next year, the Coalition parties would be left with little or no time to recover.

Kenny has just made a complete hames of deciding when to face the voters. The Taoiseach must start showing some fancier footwork to avoid falling flat on his face between now and polling day.

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