#GE16: Nothing is decided yet. There is still a lot to play for – for politicians on all sides.

One of the most difficult tasks facing any Taoiseach is managing the final days of their Government. It’s a difficult task, even at the best of times, but when you have an imploding health policy, a possible series of public sector strikes, nervous back benchers, not to mention a coalition partner free-falling in the polls, it can get pretty hairy.

While the last couple of opinion polls have brought comfort to Enda Kenny and Fine Gael, showing the party at its strongest levels in over three years, those polling numbers – if repeated at the 2016 election – would still result in:

  • Fewer Fine Gael TDs,
  • Considerably fewer Labour TDs
  • More Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Independent TDs

What is very far from clear, however, are the number of losses and gains on either side. How many seats will Fine Gael lose? In all likelihood, it will be nowhere near the number that Labour will lose.

Having an dozen or more anxious Labour TDs individually wondering if they will survive the next election will not make the final days of this Government the happiest or calmest of times for either the Taoiseach or Tánaiste.

Using the last few opinions polls as predictors of the make-up of the next Dáil is probably as accurate and reliable a method as examining the entrails of the Christmas day turkey. You’d be better advising using the giblets for gravy.

While it is possible to use the relative strengths from the polls to make a reasonable guess at how the first two seats in most four and five constituencies will go – calling the final seats is all but impossible, yet it is their allocation which will decide the election… so why is Fine Gael spinning the outcome as a foregone conclusion?

Those third fourth and fifth seats will be determined not only by transfers, but probably by low preference ones: given the number and range of independents and small parties on offer.

Speaking of independents, it is fantastical to presume that independent candidates will somehow transfer to each other and not break across to any of the bigger three and a half parties (FG, FF, SF and The remains of Labor).

Take my own constituency of Dublin Bay South. Having spoken with local activists (of whom I am one) and candidates of almost all hues over the past few weeks; about the only thing they all agree on is that Fine Gael’s Eoghan Murphy TD will be elected – after that, all bets are off.

Most agree that there are five candidates in contention for the remaining three seats: Renua’s Lucinda Creighton, The Green’s Eamon Ryan, Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan, Labour’s Kevin Humphries and possibly even Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrews.

One particular pundit suggested that the constituency will breakdown with two TDs being on the government side in the next Dáil and two on the opposition side, adding that they saw Renua as a contender in the government column, not the opposition one.

What makes the speculation on this individual constituency more interesting is that some of my interlocutors seem to be privy to results of party or candidate polling in the constituency.

Of course, they (or is that I) could be bluffing and the figures they cite may be concocted… sorry, I meant politically adjusted, to suit their preferred outcome, but it does remind us that national newspapers conduct their opinions polls in a way that political party do not.

The main political parties use constituency polling, not broad national polls. They know from experience that individual constituency polls showing the names of the particular local candidates are a better indicator of outcome than broad national polls.

Constituency polls are more likely to pick up on the individual popularity of a particular big beast and – especially in areas outside Dublin – key geographic factors, such as the desire of a district or town to have its own local TD almost whatever their hue.

This is not to suggest that media organisations should be doing constituency polling instead of national polls – it is just to remind ourselves that the people who run campaigns – as opposed to those who comment on them – do things differently.

Neither is this an attempt to gloss over what have been a number of bad polling results for Fianna Fáil. Yes, the shifts have all been within the margin of error, nonetheless those figures suggest the party is just holding ground at a time when it should be gaining it – especially in Dublin.

The latest Irish Times poll shows Fianna Fáil support at a paltry 10% in Dublin, which is surprising as, in 2014, it got 12.6% in the Dublin Euro constituency and over 14% in the Dublin Council elections. The Irish Times poll has Fianna Fáil support at 10% in the capital it also, curiously, has it at 16% among urban voters – who knew Dublin wasn’t really urban?

While recent polls may appear to support the Fine Gael narrative that the election is over before it has begun and that Enda Kenny’s place in the Fine Gael pantheon as the first FG Taoiseach re-elected to serve a second term is secure – but appearances can be deceptive, particularly in politics.

The government has had remarkably high unfavourable ratings throughout its term – even from very soon after it was swept into office. The latest Irish Times poll shows 57% dissatisfied with the Government’s performance as opposed to just 34% satisfied with it and 9% with no opinion.

The dark secret at the core of the Fine Gael narrative that no one in Fine Gael likes to talk about is that it depends on a lot of people who are dissatisfied with the current government’s performance holding their nose and voting Fine Gael or Labour in 2016 – compelled into that choice as a way of keeping others out.

It is a valid campaign strategy – the Tories used it to great effect in the UK. But, while the Lynton Crosby playbook may have helped the Tories to cannibalize their coalition partners and use the prospect of a Labour/SNP government to return itself to office with an “overwhelming minority”, it didn’t help Harper’s Conservatives in Canada.

The Canadian Tories lost out to an unpredicted landslide in favour of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. The Crosby playbook is also a strategy that works better in a simple First Past The Post system.

No matter how much the Fine Gaelers spin and the Labour party denies the existence of reports showing meltdown – the reality is that nothing is decided yet. There is still a lot to play for – for politicians on all sides.

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  • Robin Keogh

    The polls might indeed be pointing to an upturn in SF’s fortunes but if Chris Andrews wins a seat for the party in Dublin bay South I will personally sing ‘the Sash my father hore’ live at next years Ard Fheis.

    Fine Gael are on a high, the hospital and housing issue is unlikely to affect their standing by very much. Their voters are cut from the cloth of arch individualism, as long as the economy continues to steam ahead with promises of tax favours for the guys at the top, that 30% will keep faithful.

    Labour looks as if it is beyond saving at this stage. Regardless of their sincere intentions they completely abandoned most of their base and that will not be forgiven quickly.

    Fianna Fail are flumuxed by dissention at cumann level, grandee scandal, division on coalition and Mick Martins failed anti SF smear campaign.

    The battle over the next four months will be vicious.

  • mickfealty

    And possibly fruitless.

  • Robin Keogh

    Absolutely

  • Mary Anna Quigley

    What has PSF done for NI? Nothing just build themselves empires. Ps wreck NI Civil Rights, forgotten victims – lost lives. NI stained with blood on their hands working together for themselves alone. Keep Ireland free from corruption.

  • Greenflag 2

    Labour look like repeating the FF almost wipe out experience in the last election . Given that scenario the FG v FF traditional main event may be less vicious than in previous decades. The reason being the slow rise of SF and it’s ability to hold on to it’s previous gains in the Republic . The Republic could end up with an FG/FF coalition . From a traditional left v right political standpoint its probably the only political coalition that makes sense . All other combinations look like the numbers will be missing for them to work . An FG/Lab coalition won’t cut it . FF/SF has been buried as a runner given the FF leader’s anti SF mission.

    Irony of ironies then . The old SF (pre 1918) which following the civil war gave rise to FF and FG may find itself ” reuniting ” only to find their new opposition is not unionism in Ireland or Labour but a new SF which owes it’s political existence to the legacy of partition in NI.

  • mickfealty

    We’re not the kind of site where slogans get listened to Mary Anna. The ball not man rule is to promote engagement between people who disagree.

  • Mary Anna Quigley

    Ireland – people really do not understand the whole truth what happened NI. If they are informed educated aware maybe then they will rethink about who they vote for! More Catholics suffered at the hands of dictatorship. Honesty is the only policy….
    Happy Saturday Mick

  • Robin Keogh

    Mary i am a shinner, unconnected to the troubles. I, like many others am involved with SF on the basis of sharing similar social and political goals such as better equality, fairer recovery and Irish Unity etc. While i would never claim to understand your anger at the Party, i would ask you maybe to see that the party is full of decent genuine people who are committed to delivering a better politics for all of Ireland. We may succeed, we may not. Time will tell but the past – as painful as it was for people on all sides – cannot be allowed deter us from building a brighter and happier future for all citizens on this Island.

  • Roger

    SF is a party led by a liar. An IRA man who denies he is an IRA man. Its deputy is an IRA man who at least admits it. I am angry with SF because it and its cronies murdered compatriots. That’s just for starters.

  • Robin Keogh

    And its an unfortunate legacy of all conflicts that we have to stomach people we percieve to have been culpable during the course of the crisis. But it is over now and the vast majority of people on all sides are maintaining the peace and working towards delivering a better future for all of us. Better to look forward with hope rather than look back with bitterness.

  • Jack Stone

    If Gerry Adams admitted to his alleged actions in the IRA, wouldn’t he be required to serve time in one of Her Majesty’s prisons for the crime of his IRA membership? Wouldn’t he also be left open for civil prosecutions by people like Helen McKendry?

  • Roger

    Not sure what your point is. Do you agree he is a liar?

  • Roger

    Better to look forward? We are discussing the current SF leadership. Not something in the past. Why would we vote for a party led by a blatant liar? Are you saying he tells the truth or that the truth doesn’t matter? Or what?

  • Robin Keogh

    My personal views and motivations are immaterial. The point is that parties put themselves up to a vote and the people make a choice. If you believe that someone is a liar and does not deserve to be in a position of responsibility it is up to you to prove the lie and campaign them out. How is that going for you so far?

  • Roger

    Well it seems to me that you and I agree. Adams is a liar. But you don’t think it matters whereas I do.

  • Robin Keogh

    No u assume what I think because you cant accept your responsibilities when it comes to proving your assertions. You imagine I agree with you because it reinforces your own prejudices. You dont really care whther or not Adams is a liar or not, you only care that he is a republican; that in itself justifies in your own mind a reason to convince yourself that his mandate is unworthy.

  • Roger

    I’m one for straight answers. Not one for reading tea leaves. Do you believe Adams when he says he was not in IRA?

  • Robin Keogh

    I believe the courts. Abd the courts find he wasnt.

  • Jack Stone

    I believe Gerry Adams has a privilege against self-incrimination. Do you? If you wish to get the truth then Mr. Adams needs either a royal prerogative of mercy, an Act of Parliament or an Order-in-Council to draw a line under the historic membership within The Provisional Irish Republican Army. But if you do that then Gerry Adams would then just misrepresent when he left the organization and his position within it. The Provisional Irish Republican Army is, by it’s very nature a secret society (like it’s forerunners the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Society of United Irishmen) and thus, assuming members would break their oaths and face legal prosecution is a childish fantasy.

  • Roger

    Mr Adams’ legal rights aren’t in question. His honesty is. Do you believe him when he says he’s never been in IRA?

  • Jack Stone

    See, I believe in the spirit of the law, not just the narrow legal application. Do you believe Adams has a right against self-incrimination? Because if you do then by demanding Adams be completely honest about his position in the IRA, you are asking Adams to admit to a crime. You are asking him to violate his rights. Is that what you are asking Roger? Do you believe he has that right?

    Without one of the protections I outlined above, Gerry Adams should never admit he was in the IRA. To honor his rights, oaths and agreements, he cannot divulge his membership. It is like the British Government protecting the identity of confidential informants even after their death. Are they lying when they say someone is not an informant or are they bound by confidentiality?

  • Roger

    He shouldn’t run for election if he can’t be honest with the electorate.
    He shouldn’t lie to the electorate.
    You seem to think lying by Mr Adams is ok. I don’t.

  • Jack Stone

    Roger, Do you believe he has the right against self-incrimination? Do you believe someone should give up their human rights if they run for office?

    Would his membership in that group preclude him from serving in Government in The Republic of Ireland? Other former members of the IRA have sat in the Dail Eireann. Martin Ferris is a TD for Kerry North–West Limerick, he had a long history in the IRA. The Republic itself was founded by people with Terrorists pasts. So even if it was true, such a past would not preclude him from his place in the Dail.

    So, even if you believe that Gerry Adams was in the IRA (even on the Army Council) there is evidence that such would not preclude his election and that the electorate does elect former high ranking members of the IRA,

  • Roger

    Jack, I believe SF and Adams in particular should be honest. It’s that simple.

    Paras 2 and 3 relate to other topics.

  • Jack Stone

    Roger, I am taking your answer to mean that you believe that either Gerry Adams loses his privilege against self incrimination upon becoming a member of Sinn Fein or that the “honest” thing would be for Gerry Adams to be forced to choose between prison or public office. If this is wrong, then you should actually explain your reasoning in relation to the arguments presented above. It seems like you are avoiding my arguments.

  • Roger

    Adams has the same legal rights as any other citizen.
    Adams is campaigning to become the leader of the Irish nation.
    That brings with it the moral obligation to tell the truth to the Irish people.

  • Jack Stone

    If his legal rights are moral rights then he has a moral right against self incrimination and, it being a highly valued human right, would invalidate such an obligation. Would a Barrister be forced to violate the confidentiality of his clients in order to campaign to become the leader of the Irish nation? Or does this only apply to Gerry Adams?

    Are you arguing that Gerry Adams is morally obligated to choose between prison and public office?

  • Roger

    It seems you are not persuaded that Adams has a moral obligation to tell the truth and not to tell lies to the Irish people.

    I don’t think I can persuade you or add anything more.

  • Jack Stone

    But you haven’t made a single attempt to persuade me. If you have an argument then you should present it. If anything, I showed that the moral obligation to tell the truth is not absolute. There is a balance of rights and obligations in society. You are looking at it in a vacuum and involving a single person. The weakness of your argument shows on it’s face. Perhaps it would help your argument if you were able to answer any of the questions above. But, as you said, you do not think you can add anything more.