Thursday September 30 2010 – dubbed ‘Black Thursday’ by the opposition parties – may go down as the seminal point in the economic tsunami of these past two years.
While a range of frightening figures for the ultimate cost to the Exchequer of the banking crash has been bandied about for months the stark announcement by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan of the expected cost may prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Certainly Insider detected a change in mood that day, as people who were intent on keeping their heads down and battling through the crisis or were immune from shock could no longer contain their rage.
The cost to the State of the banking crash - even if you leave out the cost of shoring up AIB and Bank of Ireland, both of which are hugely important to the economy and may give us a long-term return on our investment if they are resuscitated by this process – is estimated at €35 billion.
That is the equivalent of €17,500 per worker (if we take it that we can maintain two million jobs ) in this State. It truly conjures up images of a smiling American waitress cheerfully asking a punch drunk customer “Would honey like the ticket?”
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Black Thursday announcement however was the revelation that a four-year plan was to be agreed with the European Commission. This further emphasised the dire straits the country found itself in and – in what should be sobering for any Fianna Fáiler with a sense of patriotism – held up the spectre of Ireland battling to hold or regain its economic sovereignty in time for the 1916 Rising centenary.
It also raised a very obvious question – why are we not having a general election right now? After all a four-year plan surely requires some sort of mandate from the public. The situation is further aggravated by the fact that an election must be held within 18 months and very few expect this Government to be re-elected.
When you factor in Government satisfaction ratings of 12-18 per cent you could argue that this Government, in devising and implementing such a crucial strategy, has about as much legitimacy in the eyes of the public as British rule did in the early part of the 20th century.
Sadly as was stated to Insider recently, Fianna Fáil is now so deluded it is blissfully unaware of this - Minister Éamon Ó Cuív’s embarrassing performance on TV3 recently when he claimed not to have detected any anger towards FF among the public emphasises this.
That Fianna Fáil is forced to expend so much energy on covering its tracks after making such a mess of our economy is damaging to the nation as the Government needs all its energy to rescue the situation and regain our economic sovereignty.
All of this brings us nicely on to that election. Leaving aside the argument about timing – and even before Black Thursda it was widely felt that it would take place in early 2011 – the question arises whether FF is aware of just how badly they are poised to perform.
Let Insider spell it out. For FF ‘Black Thursday’ runs the risk of becoming what ‘Black Wednesday’ in 1992 became for the Tories.
On a rating of around 25 per cent FF has no chance of taking more than one seat in any four-seat or three-seat constituency. Indeed the party runs the risk of being wiped out in some three-seaters and will only win two seats in five-seaters where it scores an above-average vote and manages that vote carefully. There will be some constituencies where FF will lose more than one seat.
On balance FF will average out at no better than one seat per constituency; this will leave it on 43 seats, a loss of 35 on the 2007 performance. In Insider’s view that is possibly at the higher end of the spectrum if their vote stays marooned at 25 per cent.
If Fianna Fáil add on a few points of course it may win a few more seats (although a lack of transfers could be a killer ), but if they actually drop a few points...
Taking this to Galway West, what does it mean? Currently there are three government TDs in the constituency - Éamon Ó Cuív, Frank Fahey, and Noel Grealish (sort of ).
All of the trends would suggest that two of them will lose their seats. In recent years when FF has done badly nationally – think of the last two local elections – it has fared particularly badly in Galway.
With big urban and commuter populations in Galway West the backlash is likely to be vicious. FF can only drop four points on their 2007 showing to avoid going below two quotas; nationwide they are down by 15-20 points in all polls. In order to hold on it will need a carefully managed ticket, hope to keep their second candidate ahead of Noel Grealish, and pick up sufficient transfers from him to scrape over the line.
Turning to Dep Grealish, Insider has to say his seat should be an easy pickup for the opposition. Galway West has never elected an Independent and is exactly the type of constituency - largely urban and lacking in the sort of large inner-city working class base that elected Tony Gregory - which is unlikely to do so.
If Fine Gael’s senator Fidelma Healy-Eames runs his goose may be cooked. What may however save him is an implosion in the FF vote coupled with a lack of strength in FG and Labour. In particular Michael D Higgins’s retirement will make the winning of two seats additionally challenging for Labour, although it is a challenge the party must rise to if it is serious about making a real breakthrough nationally.
If Sen Eames does not run, Dep Grealish will also have the Oranmore area largely to himself. Insider feels the odds are against him, especially without the elaborate vote-planning strategy which he enjoyed with Tom Welby, Declan McDonnell, and Donal Lyons in his PD days.
Therefore Insider’s opinion on Galway West is that there will be one seat each for FF, FG, and Labour. The FG/Labour opposition will probably win a second seat – at this stage FG seem better positioned – with a probable three-way fight by FF, Labour, and Noel Grealish for the last seat. It promises to be an election of upheaval locally as well as nationally.