Monday 18 December 2017

After all the polls, contest will be first real test of where Government stands

In a Dail where the Government enjoys the largest majority in the history of the State, the addition of one TD to any grouping will make little change.

But the Meath East by-election will still be viewed as a weathervane of public opinion at this time.

Although local considerations (not least the tragic manner in which the vacancy arose with the death of Shane McEntee) will have a significant impact on the outcome, the parties will be looking to see if their performance in the opinion polls is matched at the only ballot box in operation.

The awful weather and the backdrop of the property tax has made it a difficult campaign, particularly for the coalition parties, with a low turnout widely expected.

For Fine Gael, anything less than a victory is a massive setback.

The party appears reasonably confident of retaining the seat through Helen McEntee, the daughter of the deceased junior minister.

The Labour Party is bracing itself for a drubbing and finishing outside the top three would be viewed negatively and has consequences for Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's leadership as it would reaffirm the cynics' views on the party's direction.

Fianna Fail wants validation of its recent comeback in the opinion polls.

Running the most experienced candidate in the field in a traditional party stronghold puts Micheal Martin's party in genuine contention.

Sinn Fein has nothing to lose in this election and would welcome a strong result placing it as the main receptacle for disaffected voters.

The transfers will also be watched keenly to see if there is any pattern emerging.

Ultimately, this is likely to be the last actual electoral contest before the crucial local and European elections.

Winner aside, the Government and opposition alike will be analysing the smoke signals carefully.

Irish Independent

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