THE writing is on the wall, in terms of a tally for the Dublin Bay South by-election.
Ivana Bacik is going to win the seat for the Labour Party.
The result most damages Fine Gael, because the seat had been held by Eoghan Murphy, former Housing Minister.
In fact, Fine Gael came close to holding two seats at the general election last year, except that the tide was out.
The other had been held by Kate O’Connell. Her non-appearance on the ballot this time around has been a talking point all campaign.
The outcome therefore swivels attention onto the Fine Gael leader, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
It has long been obvious the two do not get on, with Ms O’Connell backing Simon Coveney for the party leadership and later asking the pointed question as to whether Mr Varadkar is good for Fine Gael.
The party now drops to 34 seats in the Dáil, behind the 37 of Sinn Féin and 37 for Fianna Fáil, although the latter was reduced to a voting strength of 36 after Sean Ó Fearghail resumed the role of Ceann Comhairle.
While the result will be a massive disappointment for Mr Varadkar, who is also trying to deal with a Garda investigation into the leaking of a draft new contract for GPs, it is no less stark for Fianna Fáil.
By the early tallies, candidate Deirdre Conroy will struggle to win sufficient votes to enable refunding of her deposit, although it will likely come right in the final analysis.
Commentators had been saying for weeks that if Fianna Fáil received less than double figures, the party would be in major trouble – with a question mark also over its leadership.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin will be dismayed at a near-completed tally showing his party candidate with 4.5pc of the vote.
Such a dismal result is unheard of for a party sitting in Government that holds the role of Head of Government.
The outcome is thus guaranteed to spark major ructions and soul-searching at the next meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, but this level of underperformance threatens seats across the board.
Fianna Fáil has had trouble winning votes in the cities in recent years, and had been trundling along at around 11pc of the vote in the capital.
Particular politicians always had their strongholds, but 5pc is nowhere near a quota, even in the largest multi-seat constituency. If replicated across the board next time out, De Valera’s old party would be reduced to a tiny rump.
The disastrous showing cannot be put down to the candidate’s own performance, because most voters never meet or form much of a judgment of the person – although publicity around social media comments property-owner Ms Conroy made about a Latvian tenant will not have helped.
Instead it points to the unpopularity of Government policies, in part to do with the continued closure of hospitality – albeit this has been done on public health advice – and the greater issue of housing and the accommodation crisis. Both major parties of Government have been dealt a sharp rebuke.
It was always going to be tough territory for Sinn Féin, with Senator Lynn Boylan going little further than meeting expectations on around 16.7pc of first preferences. It is well down on the party’s 24.5pc of the national vote in February last year. But in a general election, in light of overall trends, Sinn Féin will easily retain the party seat held in Dublin Bay South by Chris Andrews.
Claire Byrne of the Greens performed creditably at just under 8pc of first preferences. But party leader Eamon Ryan holds sway along this stretch of coastlines.
For the Labour Party, the risk is believing your own publicity. Leader Alan Kelly will be considerably boosted by this result, and has believed for months that his party is on the way back, having been blamed for years of austerity when in power with Fine Gael.
But the fact remains that Ivana Bacik is going to take the seat because she is the most experienced and astute politician in the field, with a long track record. The voters have recognised that she has been knocking on the door for years.
Her reception into the Dáil will be a monumental day for the now seven-seat party, when all TDs will rise to their feet and clap the newcomer as she takes her seat, having been formally accompanied to the chamber by the Captain of the Guard.
But Labour is in its own electoral trouble as the poll-of-polls graphic indicates the public mood is still to punish the party.
Some of Ivana’s vote is undoubtedly Kate-related, leaving fake leaflets aside. Ms O’Connell went on radio after her revelation that she would not be going forward to selection convention because she believed, rightly or wrongly, that the FG leadership was against her. She then pointed to the fact that four men were elected in the constituency last time out – and left few in any doubt that a female should seize a seat on this occasion.
Other parties heard that message, with the result that Fine Gael was the only major political brand fielding a male candidate. James Geoghegan will be disappointed to be beaten into second place on first preferences, with the clear signs that a cascade of votes transferring from female candidate to female candidate over the course of eliminations will boost Ivana Bacik to victory.
The final assessment: the Irish electorate cannot be taken for granted. Its mood remains volatile – and vengeful.