Place your bets - Bruton as Finance Minister, Bono for 'Strictly'
Published 07/01/2016 | 02:30
My leap year crystal ball is predicting 12 months of unrelenting drama. However, psephology is a hazardous game. Human intuition has in-built mechanisms compelling us to trust that history will repeat itself.
In the fields of sport, and even politics, it's easy to envision a recurrence of what has gone before. New scenarios are less easy to conjure up. Yet most titleholders don't retain their champion status year on year, despite being the best.
And so to my first prediction: The General Election will be held on Friday 26 February. This date would allow for the completion of the Fine Gael and Labour conferences. The 31st Dáil will dissolve in the early days of February - the next one may not resume until after the ministers complete their arduous St Patrick's Day exodus. Enda Kenny has the option to hang on until April 8, but expect him to cut and run well before then.
A growing consensus among media pundits suggests Fine Gael will surge towards a certain and comfortable victory. Pro-Government spin doctors will hammer home a "stability versus chaos" message. The Opposition will build platforms based on "fairness and change".
As for detailed policy debates - there won't be any.
Recent polls in Spain offer a foretaste of what we might expect. A victory for the conservative Popular Party, which won just under 30pc of the vote, has not yielded a clear return to power. The voters looked to new parties and traditional opposition despite numerous dire warnings of instability. So the country moved from a two-party to a multi-party system.
I suggest, therefore, that comfortable notions about the majority of voters re-electing the present Coalition because of a lack of obvious choices are simplistic.
Look beyond the city-based middle classes and you will find disgruntled, disaffected swathes of the country that are not experiencing recovery. There are too many households still trying to recover from the €4,000 taken from them during the various austerity budgets.
I would see the parliamentary arithmetic adding up to a Fine Gael/Labour combined total of less than 70 seats. The nearer Fine Gael gets to 60 TDs, the closer Labour gets to a single-digit total.
Crystal ball or not, things get foggier when you look towards Fianna Fáil. You have to ask: Where has it all gone wrong since May 2014 when they took 24.5pc of the vote in the local elections?
They garnered the most councillors of any party. But their front bench lacks energy and impact. Micheál Martin is indecisive on the key question of government. His outright rejection of a dance with either Fine Gael or Sinn Féin means his party is effectively irrelevant when it comes to looking at government scenarios. He seems blissfully unaware of his unhappy fate. If he fails to lead Fianna Fáil into government, he's finished as leader. Another five years in opposition would spell the end. But it is still possible to see the party securing up to 35 seats. And it's also still hard to envisage a government formed without them.
Having scrutinised the situation in more than 40 constituencies, I envisage Sinn Féin having 25 TDs.
I also see more than 20 Independents and a dozen deputies from smaller and new parties.
Keep an eye out for some new names: Mick Barry (Cork North-Central); Kathleen Funchion (Carlow/Kilkenny); Ann Norton (Clare); Margaret Murphy-O'Mahony (Cork South West); Paul Donnelly (Dublin West); Eoin Ó Broin (Dublin Midwest); John Leahy (Offaly); Maurice Quinlivan (Limerick City); and Peter Casey (Wicklow).
The highest individual vote-getter will be either Michael Healy-Rae or Michael Lowry - with more than 14,000 votes; no vote-sharing needed here, as their bailiwicks become five-seater county constituencies.
Eventually, I still feel that Fine Gael should return to power in a revamped administration. Once the dust has settled, expect Mr Kenny to wield the axe on male ministers. This paves the way for gender equality in Cabinet. Frances Fitzgerald and Heather Humphreys will be joined by Mary Mitchell O'Connor and Regina Doherty.
Out goes James Reilly. Simon Harris is my most obvious Fine Gael Government whip. Michael Noonan may retire on health grounds, creating an opening for Richard Bruton as Finance Minister. This would keep the leadership ambitions of Young Turks Varadkar and Coveney in check.
I also can see ambiguous promises on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment being dropped.
In May, the Brexit referendum will be narrowly defeated by 55pc/45pc. This will also bring an end to the Tory rebellion and cause even more consternation in the Labour Party, shattering Corbyn's precarious leadership.
Greece will require a fourth bailout. Refugees will be refused asylum in the European Union in a controversial policy U-turn by Angela Merkel. In the US, Donald Trump will be beaten by Marco Rubio for the Republican nomination - he will then snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, fears for some of China's banks will cause stock markets to slide.
In business, 2016 will be a vigorous, expansionary year. The construction sector will be reborn with the improbable return of some former developers.
Banks will make headlines through Bank of Ireland repaying all of the State capital it owes. You will see AIB launch an IPO rather than a trade sale. Ulster Bank may be sold by parent Royal Bank of Scotland and merged with Permanent TSB to establish a third banking force, competing against the two pillar banks. Share prices in Paddy Power, Ryanair, Glanbia and Kerry Foods will all surge. More pharma and tech multinationals will opt for Ireland and its corporation tax regime, pushing receipts towards €10bn.
In sport, the Olympics in Rio could net Ireland five medals: Michael Conlon and Katie Taylor (boxing); Rory McIlroy (golf, men's team and individual); Bertram Allen or Cian O'Connor (showjumping). Further FIFA reverberations could result in the 2022 World Cup finals being taken from Qatar.
Lewis Hamilton will remain the Formula One world champion, with more than seven Grand Prix wins. Novak Djokovic will win three grand slam singles titles, plus an Olympic gold medal; Serena Williams and Roger Federer will retire. The USA will recapture the Ryder Cup.
Soccer will see a surprise winner in Euro 2016 - for my money, Belgium will lift the trophy. Manchester is the focus of much change with City welcoming Pep Guardiola; Louis van Gaal will remain at Old Trafford; while Harry Kane will sign for Chelsea. In rugby, it will be a year of transition and disappointment: Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose will emerge as Ireland's centre pairing, but we will lose the Six Nations.
The Dubs will hold on to Sam Maguire. Kilkenny will get pipped at the post by a resurgent Clare. Croke Park will make history with a 3am early morning MMA global title bout, Conor McGregor will succeed in combining lightweight and featherweight UFC titles - and it'll all be over in eight seconds.
In racing, Willie Mullins will train a record 10 Cheltenham festival winners.
We'll all be thrilled as Saoirse Ronan wins an Oscar for 'Brooklyn', Bono wins 'Strictly', Niall Horan tops 'I'm a Celebrity' and Louis Walsh returns to 'The X Factor' - but Joan Burton's autobiography will turn out to be a bore.
Finally, I predict that I will learn to use Snapchat - so tips that turn out to be tittle-tattle can be instantly erased.