Well, this will come as a relief to the hundreds of thousands of voters up and down the country who are presently losing sleep at the prospect of the election depriving the nation of its finest politician:
“Children’s minister Katherine Zappone has said she would be willing to work in a government led by Micheál Martin if Fianna Fail wins more seats than Fine Gael on February 8.
The Dublin South-West deputy, who was the first independent TD to join Enda Kenny’s government in 2016, said she would have no difficulty working in a Fianna Fail-led government under Martin, as long as he met her key policy demand for a €150m increase in childcare spending.”
Before you sneer too hard, remember that it is vanishingly unlikely that either candidate for Taoiseach will be able to form a Government without the support of smaller parties and independents. In some ways, it’s not surprising that Zappone would be touting her services to the highest bidder. In the election aftermath, it’s a virtual certainty that politicians like Michael Healy Rae and Michael Lowry will be presenting a shopping list of demands to the leaders of FF and FG in return for their votes.
On the other hand, it’s also a virtual certainty that those two will be in the Dáil to make such demands. With Deputy Zappone, it’s a little less clear.
In 2016, she scraped into the last seat with just over 4,000 votes in Dublin South West. A very small swing against her would render the question of her continued service in Government moot. With polls suggesting a swing against independents, and towards Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, backing her for re-election would be what the bookies call “a good value bet”.
And what of her demand for an extra €150million?
That’s a strange one, coming from a Minister, who, as Niamh reported last year, didn’t spend her budget when she had it:
“The Comptroller and Auditor General is to reveal that Katherine Zappone, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, returned €60 million to the exchequer last year. This beggars belief. We are constantly told that the persistent failure of Minister Zappone’s department to protect and provide for vulnerable children is because of a lack of resources. Yet the Minister handed back €60 million unused for 2018.”
It’s quite something to underspend your budget by €60m in one year, and then to declare you need an increase of nearly three times that amount to be convinced to take the job again. What’s she going to spend it on, basket weaving classes?
Aside from all of that, keeping Zappone on would be a terrible political move for FF. Any new Government is going to want to demonstrate that it is substantially different from the Government that it replaced. Appointing the same faces to the same jobs would leave a very bitter taste in the mouths of voters who had just voted for a change.
So what’s Zappone doing here? Part of it is probably innocent cluelessness. She’s not been a politician for very long, and ended up in her present job primarily by an accident of numbers after the last election. She probably vastly overstates her own chances of re-election, like a great many politicians do. Part of it is also probably an attempt to cement that perceived re-election by painting herself as vastly relevant to the formation of a Government, hoping that local voters will see her as kind of a power broker.
Either way, it’s very unlikely that anyone will take her up on her offer. We’ve probably seen the last of Katherine Zappone as Minister for Children. Which, no doubt, is provoking tears of mourning in creches up and down the country.
Break the news to your little ones gently.