Tomorrow’s polling day marks the culmination of a three month campaign to fill our MEP and local council seats. By any standards it has been one of the dullest. Barely a proper insult traded.
Public opinion, as measured by polls, is broadly the same as a month ago. Fine Gael is hovering above 30 per cent with Labour and FF tussling for the second berth at around 20 per cent. In the last general election and polls of a year ago Fianna Fáil obtained 42 per cent.
My predictions for the 12 ‘Euro Apostles’ to represent Ireland are: Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher, Jim Higgins, Marian Harkin (North West ); Brian Crowley, Sean Kelly, and Kathy Sinnott (South ); Gay Mitchell, Proinsias de Rossa, and Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin ); Mairéad McGuinness, Liam Aylward, and Nessa Childers (East ).
I wouldn’t be surprised if Sinn Féin’s Toiréasa Ferris tussled with Kathy Sinnott for the last seat in Munster. These predictions mean the loss of a seat each for FF and FG.
FF faces a terrible drubbing. The collapse in their support seems more pronounced in city areas. Dublin in particular looks like being a nightmare. I cannot see Eoin Ryan surviving on the latest poll tallies. Fianna Fáil face the prospect of finishing third in both Dublin by-elections. Their preferences will probably decide the destination of the seat in Dublin Central. Depending on the strength of local candidates, FF stand to lose between 30 to 50 of their 302 council seats.
Before the post-mortem within Government begins it is possible to identify their key campaign failings. Whoever is in charge of their communication strategy should be fired. Government ministers have not been forthcoming to defend their party. No coherent Government economic plan has been articulated.
Even worse has been Cowen’s own electioneering. Lethargic handshakes and photo-calls with school children, party aficionados and candidates have been the extent of his campaign diary. The contrast with Bertie Ahern’s energetic bursts up and down every main street, engaging with the maximum number of people, could not be greater.
Comparisons between Cowen and Ahern will be troublesome for the Taoiseach. Bertie eked out every last vote on both sides of the Liffey. From his early career as Lord Mayor, with his pronounced accent, he was the quintessential Dubliner. His departure has left a gaping hole there for FF. Ahern’s electoral success was the extra seat bonus he obtained from vote transfers. FF had done poorly in this regard, dating back to the Haughey era. ‘Bertie’s Team’ were able to attract crucial later count transfers from every quarter. Cowen’s combative aggressive style jeopardises these gains.
The Green Party face a difficult election - without any prospects in the Euro constituencies or the by- elections. The status quo on council seats is probable. I understand it will set the bar very high on subsequent Government Programme renegotiation.
Costly public transport projects (Metro North ) may form the basis of the Greens leaving Government on the pretext of a policy dispute. This would actually suit both sides as FF could claim the fiscal rectitude high ground in refusing to concede.
I believe an early General Election and change of Government is inevitable. Make no mistake, you can change the faces in Government but it will not change the problems. There is no quick fix to our nation’s woes.
These elections have been completely overshadowed by the twin towers of the horrific Ryan Commission report on child abuse and the announcement of the gut wrenching losses of Anglo Irish Bank. The taxpayer faces a potential bill of €8 billion for this toxic institution.
Let’s hope the new generation of politicians to be elected tomorrow are more talented, truthful, and courageous than the present motley crew.