The final Leaders’ Debate will be televised tonight as we approach the last few days of campaigning and canvassing in this shortest of election campaigns.
The polls have been sending out a number of messages, at times conflicted, but the main story emerging from the polling picture appears to be that a viable governing coalition seems difficult to assemble, unless Fine Gael and Fianna Fail take the historic step to coalesce and begin a new chapter in Irish political history.
The chaos scenario has the potential to determine the final first preference destination of many undecided voters. With that in mind, I’m throwing out three predictions of my own for how Election Day is likely to pan out.
1. TINA can still deliver for FG: in spite of what has been widely acknowledged to be a pretty disastrous campaign by the lead party of government, Fine Gael appear to be the beneficiaries of a late surge, no doubt attributable to the potent message that ‘there is no alternative’ which the incumbent party may have failed to drive home, yet which may ultimately prove decisive in swinging enough voters back behind the party to ensure Fine Gael retain a significant advantage over Fianna Fail and remain in pole position to at least attempt to build a coalition or govern as a minority administration.
2. Fianna Fail are being paroled from purgatory: the electoral meltdown that was The Nightmare of 2011 for Ireland’s one-time most successful and most popular political party will partly be put behind them as the rehabilitation process takes a giant leap forward. The reported death of Fianna Fail was premature; from 1932 until 2011, the lowest share of the vote returned by FF was 39.1% (in 1992) and the lowest seat tally returned at an election was 65 seats in 1954. The voters who abandoned the party five years ago, costing it a half-century in seats, have old voting habits that still linger. Fianna Fail is in the DNA of far too many Irish people to be cast aside for too long.
3. Sinn Fein to make the breakthrough as Voice of the Left, but to be left pondering what could have been: Even with the downward momentum affecting the party in the polls of late, Sinn Fein is still on course for the party’s greatest performance in the Dail since the revolutionary era. The Adams-McGuinness project is about to hit its high water mark, with the party poised to occupy the position of primary voice of the mainstream Irish Left, a place it will prove extremely difficult to be forced from in the years to come. Securing in excess of 22 seats will ensure Sinn Fein records the third largest return for a left wing party at Dail elections (the 33 Labour TDs of the ’92 Spring Tide and unprecedented 37 Labour TDs of 2011 being the highest marks for an avowedly left wing party in the State.) Yet voices inside will undoubtedly begin to ask if the party would have made a considerably greater leap forward in 2016 were it not for the fact that the transition to a new leadership had not been completed in advance. Those discussions will happen as of necessity, not as a reaction to the hostile ramblings of political opponents in the Southern media (noted even by this unlikely source & quite brilliantly parodied by another), whose conduct throughout this campaign has betrayed a deep sense of anxiety stemming from an inability to permanently halt Sinn Fein’s advance.