This election could trigger lasting change
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil may yet join forces to share power
Published 11/04/2015 | 02:30
We face the most intriguing general election since 1948, and the outcome could re-shape Irish politics for future generations.
The current crop of opinion polls suggest a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition seems the only realistic option.
The surveys also predict Sinn Féin and the very disparate "Independents and Others" have the potential to figure in a new government.
Sinn Féin retains the prospect of leading a coalition, while at least one Independent TD could take a seat in Cabinet.
The 1948 general election threw up a surprise government comprising six groupings of everybody except Fianna Fáil.
The party structures soon reverted to type in the 1950s - but the next election could trigger lasting change with questions about Labour's survival and a potential Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil merger.
Several factors compound problems translating survey results into Dáil seats, under our multi-seat, proportional representation system.
There is the impact of the Dáil being reduced from 166 to 158 seats; the significantly re-drawn boundaries, cutting the number of constituencies to 40; the prospect of much-changed transfer patterns; and the 20pc of voters yet to decide.
A modest improvement in the two ruling parties' fortunes means they could cobble together a coalition, possibly with some Independent TDs.
At a glance, this is the story of each party, with the Sunday Independent's most recent poll by Millward Brown mainly taken as their current standing.
Fine Gael: Last general election had 36pc and 76 Dáil seats. Now on 24pc. On a bad day, they could lose 30 seats. They hope a rising economy and a hardening of public opinion could cut losses to a dozen seats.
Labour: Last time they took a record 19.4pc and elected 37 TDs. Extravagant pre-election promises and "junior coalition partner syndrome" leave them fighting for their existence. Current poll showings of 8pc could reduce them to single figures in the Dáil.
Sinn Féin: They had 10pc and 14 TDs last time and are currently on 24pc in opinion polls and could have more than 30 seats next time.
Fianna Fáil: Still below 20pc, they don't look like recovering from the 2011 meltdown and gaining much beyond their 20 Dáil seats. They will rely upon a strong campaign and improved transfers to stay afloat.
Independents and Others: On 17pc last time they could have one in five voters next time. Transfers will be a huge bugbear, as will the question of relevance as people direct attention to picking a government.
This most disparate group could benefit from the formation of the nascent Renua Ireland and the forging of a loose alliance led by Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice.
But they remain an unknown quantity as yet.
Sinn Féin insist they will not join a coalition led by either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. And Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil say they will have no truck with Sinn Féin.
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil indicate they each must the bigger coalition partner.
Most observers believe such a coalition would make a merger of these Civil War adversaries likely.
But remember what happened after four recent pre-election declarations.
In June 1989, Fianna Fáil abandoned coalition taboos and shared cabinet with the Progressive Democrats. In January 1993, Labour got over their sworn antipathy towards Albert Reynolds's Fianna Fáil.
In December 1994, John Bruton and Fine Gael overcame their deep suspicions about Democratic Left to form a rainbow coalition. In July 2007, the Green Party found Fianna Fáil and "Planet Bertie" the only realistic option.
Right now all parties and groups believe it is wide open.