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Fianna Fail pay the price for economic collapse

The electoral crash of the once dominant Fianna Fail marks a defining shift in Irish politics.

An unforgiving public angered at the collapse of a thriving economy has had its revenge, dealing the party its worst-ever result.

The meltdown was most keenly felt in Dublin, where voters abandoned the party in their droves.

Outgoing Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was the only one of Fianna Fail`s TDs in the capital to survive, and he was forced to battle for final place in a four-seat constituency.

Although demoralised, he pledged to rebuild the shattered party.

"The Government has taken a hammering at the polls," Mr Lenihan said.

"I will do everything I can to rebuild the party and to be a responsible opposition in the Dail."

Although power is being handed from one centre right party to another, the divisions between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are deep rooted, dating back to the politics of the Civil War years in the early 1920s.

Generations of families have traditionally voted along party lines, but such was the outcry at the return to rising unemployment and emigration, once staunch Fianna Failers defected.

Former Transport Minister Noel Dempsey summed up the dismal performance, claiming 20 seats would be a good result. The party swooped to victory with 78 TDs in the 2007 general election.

The dramatic demise was evident from an early morning exit poll which forecast an embarrassing defeat, but the wipeout was expected long before the election was called.

Fianna Fail has seen its traditional support base eroded as much for its perceived mishandling of the economy during the boom as its unpopular draconian cuts.

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But it was the intervention from the International Monetary Fund and Europe in November that sealed its fate.

As a consequence, the party will be forever remembered for presiding over the loss of the state's hard-won economic sovereignty and leading the country from boom to bust.

Ex Fianna Fail minister Sean Haughey, son of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, said core party supporters had been let down.

"We have had a very difficult few years, mistakes were made,'' he said.

"The people have spoken, they have spoken very clearly. We need to assess what they have said, we need to take it from here and listen to what they have said.''

Outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen's own popularity nose-dived throughout the economic crisis, mirroring the party's, as he faced criticisms for being a poor communicator and for his perceived failure to connect with the electorate.

As the scale of the party's defeat became evident, Mr Cowen again accepted responsibility for decisions taken in government.

"From my point of view as Taoiseach and as minister in the past I take full responsibility. I've never quibbled or suggested otherwise," he said.

The torch has passed to leader Micheal Martin to reinvigorate the party, but despite his strong personal popularity he was unable to stave off the electoral massacre.

He now faces an uphill battle to put the fight back into the 'Soldiers of Destiny'.