Will Bertie be back, will there be a Quinn tide, or will Sinn Féin’s day finally come? These are the questions facing the Irish people as they head to the polls on May 17.
It has been the longest campaign and the most polled contest in the history of Irish elections, even though the actual date for the contest was only announced towards the end of April.
All the main political parties have been in election mode for months and newspapers, both national and local, have been analyzing poll after poll in the hope of finding out which way the electorate will swing.
It looks set to be a good election for the main political party Fianna Fail, and for its leader Bertie Ahern. Despite all the recent financial scandals involving senior Fianna Fail politicians, particularly former leader Charles J Haughey, it looks like the party vote is holding strong.
And there are even whispers about an overall majority.
However, the junior government partners, the Progressive Democrats, are battling for their very survival. The party had four seats going into this election, but will be lucky to retain two. The recent scandal involving one of the PD’s most senior politicians, Bobby Molloy, where he was castigated by a judge for inter-fering in a rape case, has done the party huge damage. Until then the PDs had occupied the high moral ground in Irish political life.
It looks like a bad election is also on the cards for the main opposition party, Fine Gael. They have a new leader, Michael Noonan, who has not inspired the electorate since succeeding former leader John Bruton.
The party is in danger of losing up to 8 seats. Opinion polls forecast the party vote collapsing.
The Labour Party could benefit most from Fine Gael’s misfortune. Some analysts are predicting a Quinn tide. Party leader Ruairi Quinn’s recent ratings have gone up and it is thought that he might recapture seats lost in the last election.
But the question on everyone’s lips is how well Sinn Féin will do on their first real electoral outing in the South. It is thought that they may have peaked too soon. The party has also suffered as a result of repeated allegations of vigilante activity particularly in North Kerry where former gun-runner Martin Ferris was expected to do well. The accusations of IRA involvement with FARC guerrillas in Colombia may also work against them. ♦