Fine Gael on course to govern by itself
Silent surge by voters spells drop for Independents and Labour
JOHN DRENNAN - Sunday February 06 2011
A series of constituency polls conducted by the Sunday Independent reveal that Fine Gael is agonisingly close to forming a single-party government for the first time since 1927.
The polls suggest that within the nation's constituencies, where party organisation and name recognition can give bigger parties a bounce, a silent surge to FG is occurring.
And if the swing continues the party will be on the cusp of actually securing an overall majority -- a political holy grail that hasn't been secured since the Jack Lynch era in Fianna Fail.
The Quantum Research poll across eight constituencies, which identifies local variations that would not show up in a national poll, puts Fianna Fail at 24 per cent.
The main government party for the last 15 years is trailing Fine Gael at 42 per cent. Labour is on 17 per cent.
In spite of ongoing issues with Enda Kenny's status as a leader, the party is now in contention to win an astonishing three out of five seats in constituencies like Cavan-Monaghan, Laois-Offaly and even Cork South Central.
The silent surge is not confined to rural areas. In Dublin West, Leo Varadkar is poised to clean up with just under a third of first preferences.
Whilst troubled Labour leader Eamon Gilmore secures a similar vote in Dun Laoghaire, the low first preference vote secured by Ivana Bacik means it is low-profile FG candidates Sean Barrett and Mary Mitchell O'Connor, rather than the Labour dream team, who are poised to win two seats in the constituency.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael, courtesy of Enda Kenny's stunning de Valera-style 25,000-strong vote, is now odds-on to win four out of the five seats in Mayo.
A number of other political heavyweights who are poised to rack up huge personal votes include Eamon Gilmore, Simon Coveney and Fergus O'Dowd, who on today's figures will top the poll in Louth with more than 16,000 first preferences.
The poll suggests that Eamon Gilmore will win a stunning 20,000 votes in Dun Laoghaire, while Simon Coveney is poised to secure more than 16,000 votes in Cork and defeat Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin in the battle of the Cork poll toppers by a margin of almost two to one.
In what would represent a seismic political development, today's poll reveals that the FF deputy leader and recent candidate for the leadership, Mary Hanafin, has lost half of her vote in Dun Laoghaire and admits she is "facing my biggest political battle ever".
But the key factor which may see the most likely future FF female leader lose her seat to the United Left Alliance is the dismal performance of her cabinet colleague Barry Andrews, who is languishing at 7 per cent.
There is more bad news for FF in the party citadel of Laois-Offaly where FG's Charlie Flanagan is poised to inflict a crushing defeat on the Taoiseach's brother Barry Cowen. But while the seat will stay in the Cowen family, sitting Fianna Fail TDs John Moloney and Sean Fleming are in real danger of losing theirs.
The government party will, however, experience some isolated successes as both Brian Lenihan and Willie O'Dea are safe. But when it comes to the battle of the Limerick bruisers Michael Noonan is poised to knock Mr O'Dea off his perch as the designated poll topper in Limerick City for the first time in 20 years.
When it comes to Sinn Fein it may come as a consolation to Willie O'Dea that the former minister's nemesis, Maurice Quinlivan, is floundering miserably at the bottom of the Limerick battlefield as the Sinn Fein tide goes out.
In Louth, Gerry Adams will win a seat but the former British MP is being trounced by a margin of almost two to one by the FG frontbencher Fergus O'Dowd.
According to the polls, Green minister Ciaran Cuffe will struggle to get more than a thousand votes in Dun Laoghaire whilst the high-profile party chairperson and twitterer Dan Boyle is in real danger of experiencing a similar humiliation.
Independents are also faring poorly, with Socialist big hitters such as Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett struggling to secure what were previously thought to be certain gains.
The rise in FG support detailed by the Sunday Independent's series of polls will also increase tensions between the putative coalition partners of FG and Labour.
It poses a real challenge for Labour strategists since Labour transfers could play a key role in carrying Fine Gael over the threshold where they might no longer require support from Labour to form a government.
FG spokespeople have consistently denied the existence of any plan to secure an overall majority.
But tensions have been increasing between the prospective partners.
One senior FG figure told the Sunday Independent yesterday: "We are starting to worry that FG and Labour together may not be good for the country. We have serious policies, we can do stuff, but how can this happen if we are tethered to a red post?"
They say that a week is an eternity in politics never mind nearly three weeks but it looks like this election is Fine Gael's to lose. They could even form a government without a coalition. It will be very interesting to watch for any new developments.
Jack Meehan, Past National President
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America