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Paul Moran: Fine Gael has wind in its sails

MOMENTUM. A two-way street. With the campaign now over the half-way mark, there seems to be a broad shape forming in the race for the 31st Dail.

Conducted over the weekend, the latest Irish Independent /Millward Brown Lansdowne Poll points to a shift in the fortunes of the various parties.

Momentum is critical in any election, but momentum can be a two-way street.

Fine Gael has emerged as the party with its tails up -- nearly four in 10 (38pc) supporting it. It would appear the carve-up of the Fianna Fail vote favours the party.

At 23pc, Labour is, for now, unquestionably the second force in Irish politics. Whilst not stuttering, at this stage of the campaign Labour has failed to push on, and has not hoovered up as much of the disaffected vote as it would like to have done.

It would seem that being attacked on both flanks -- Fine Gael to its right and the left wing vote to its left -- has stunted the party's campaign. There are still some significant dogfights ahead with Fine Gael though. Watch this space.

At 12pc nationally, Fianna Fail is languishing, and has not generated any real momentum over the campaign; in reality the tide is against the party.

The scale of its task is immense. The optimistic in the party were aiming for a "respectable" election, hitting 25pc by February 25. Unless there is a significant swing, this aspiration seems to be just that. How times have changed.

Sinn Fein, at 10pc, has oscillated slightly in terms of support in this campaign. The one consistent is that its support is driven by younger voters (one-in-five 18 to 24 year olds), and the less affluent, both less likely to actually vote. The key for Sinn Fein will be to get its voters out on the 25th.

This election has been like no other in the recent past, with Independents, who account for over a third of all nominated candidates, claiming 16pc of the vote with less than two weeks to polling day.

There are wide variations in the political hue of these Independents, and indeed this spread could make for some interesting horse trading in the formation of the next government if the conventional assumption of a FG/Labour coalition does not materialise.

Looking at those who previously voted Fianna Fail, one in six of them now plump for an Independent candidate. They may well not bring themselves to vote for FF in this election, but they are still mindful of where their vote will go, or not, as the case may be.

The Greens, consistent with previous findings, are making no real headway -- their representation in the next Dail will indeed often be reliant on the destination of 'the fifth seat'.

With so many alternatives in the mix, from struggling Fianna Failers, to buoyant Independents, along with Fine Gael attempting to pick up the extra 'bonus' seats necessary to really drive home their momentum, this may well be too crowded a market for the outgoing junior government party.

Paul Moran is a research project manager with Millward Brown Lansdowne

Irish Independent