Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Fine Gael/Labour coalition were elected for five years, which ends in April. Sometime in the next two months Kenny will make the short drive to the presidential residence, Aras an Uachtarain, and ask President Michael D. Higgins to dissolve the Dail.
Sometimes unstable governments have lasted only six months or so in Ireland, but Kenny has had a very stable political coalition for most of the past five years.
However, the question is now being asked if he has left it too late in his five-year term to pick the election date.
Before Christmas Kenny looked set to call an election, and with opinion polls for his party rising it seemed the stage was set for his return as taoiseach.
But as Harold Macmillan, a former British prime minister, once responded “events dear boy” when asked what was the most crucial factor in shaping election outcomes. Kenny may have hung on too long.
Consider that the front page newspaper splash literally on New Year’s Day was Kenny’s deputy Joan Burton falling overboard from a boat when inspecting flood damage. The media has excoriated Kenny for not paying more personal attention to the devastating floods which soaked much of Ireland around the holidays, so the critics may well be right.
The rumored election date is mid to late February, but if the freakish storm systems which are causing massive flooding all over Ireland continue the feel-good factor of an improving economy and Christmas cheer may well evaporate.
The fact that unscrupulous builders built vast estates in flood plains during the Celtic Tiger has also come home to roost. Tens of thousands of homeowners will now find it impossible to get flood insurance, and will find it very difficult to sell their homes without such a provision.
Massive flooding is not a problem that's easy to fix with a stroke of a politician’s pen. Kenny seemed to be clutching at straws when he suggested houses may have to be rebuilt from scratch on higher ground. But who will foot the bill for that?
Under the new weather warning system, the storms battering Ireland and Britain now have names. I personally experienced Storm Frank when in Ireland between Christmas and New Year’s. It was a souped up version of a bad nor’easter, with no end in sight to follow-up storms either.
The flooding appears to be a worsening problem tied to climate change. The frequency of storms is far greater than it was even a decade ago when many of the flood plain houses were first built. Experts in Ireland are in no doubt that climate change is playing a huge role, pointing to the huge volume of rain and gale force winds hitting the country almost every year now.
It is an ill wind for opposition parties however, even if Kenny remains the overwhelming favorite to be returned to power.
Burton, who fell overboard, is in dire danger of losing her own seat and seeing her Labour Party decimated.
That will throw up the intriguing question of who will coalesce with whom. A senior politician outlined five likely scenarios, noting that Kenny as leader figured in four of them.
But if the rains keep falling and the big floods keep coming, a potent and unknowable factor will be introduced to the election. Those who predicted an easy Kenny return to power may end up being all wet.