Micheal Martin may become the next Taoiseach - but by default
Time has come for a little perspective - our country is not about to turn into a socialist republic at the next election
I am not a betting man, but I left the water charge protest on Wednesday and went to Paddy Power to put €50 on Micheal Martin to be the next Taoiseach.
Truth be told, the decision had more to do with a recent Irish Times opinion poll than the protest.
But the way Sinn Fein and the hard Left have colonised the protest, and claimed it as their own, has left many uncomfortable, not least those more measured TDs who were excluded from the platform on Wednesday.
A genuine community protest has been hijacked by Sinn Fein, in particular, to cruise to power: as the wind blows, one day their leaders will pay the charge, the next they will not.
So the time has come to get a little perspective. Protest is protest, and the anger is real, but the country is not about to turn into a socialist republic overnight - not by a long shot, much as the prospect may excite the excitable Brendan Ogle.
Before I go further, I should state that I have not voted for Fianna Fail since the 1990s. Enough of that . . .
There are around three million people registered to vote in Ireland; two million turn out to vote. There were less than 50,000 at the protest last Wednesday.
Around two-thirds, maybe three-quarters were Sinn Fein and/or hard Left supporters - let's say 30,000, which is not a bad show of strength, but hardly evidence that Ireland is about to turn into Cuba in the rain.
When Gerry Adams, Clare Daly, Paul Murphy, and others spoke, many protesters cheered loudly under green flags; but a good third did not cheer at the ridiculous 1916 rhetoric so far as I could see, angry as they may be with austerity, water charges, Irish Water and the whole bloody lot of it.
So if Gerry Adams is Taoiseach after the next election, and Clare Daly Finance Minister and Paul Murphy Minister for Foreign Affairs I will eat my hat - and I have a hat. It is not going to happen.
As the first media commentator to have identified more than two years ago, from opinion polls, the significance of the great mass of disillusioned voters, which has now become more evident that it has mobilised, I try to keep ahead of the curve.
So here is what I predict will happen: as the election is under way, a decisive number of voters will retreat to the middle ground. The real winners of the next election will be firmly in the centre, maybe leaning to the left.
Right now the only party with momentum (of sorts) in that position is Fianna Fail; which, in my book, makes Micheal Martin favourite, by default, to be the next Taoiseach.
That is unless a new party is formed in the centre, in which case all bets are off; but right now those who are said to be considering a new party are too fractured, left, right and centre, so I am happy to take a gamble on Fianna Fail.
Now let us return to that opinion poll. The devil is in the detail . . .
Excluding the undecided, there are four main voting blocks: Sinn Fein (22pc); Fianna Fail (21pc); Fine Gael (19pc) and Independents/Others (31pc).
So Sinn Fein is not streaking ahead, far from it: if anything, there is evidence that the party has peaked and may have been damaged, firstly by its flip-flop on water charges and secondly by the Mairia Cahill affair.
But first of all, those who intend to vote Independent need to be broken down: the poll tells us that they are evenly divided, roughly speaking, if not slightly more to the right than left.
However, a large proportion of Independent voters are in the centre, that is, lower middle class or skilled working class. Their transfers will be crucial, but will not necessarily go to Sinn Fein, who we know to be transfer toxic; nor will they transfer in significant numbers to the hard Left.
In the absence of a new centre movement, Independent voters in the centre will transfer in greater numbers to Fianna Fail than to any other party.
In fact, the combined hard Left will be lucky to win around 10pc to 15pc of the vote - on a good day. And Sinn Fein will be lucky to win around 20pc. So a revolution this is not.
According to my analysis, as a centrist party, Fianna Fail is currently best placed to hoover up transfers across all of the social classes, age groups and geographical divides, which will be essential when it comes to filling fourth and fifth seats in the larger constituencies.
Let us remember that in the local elections Fianna Fail emerged the largest party with 25.3pc of the vote and 266 elected councillors.
According to the opinion poll, Fine Gael support has waned to an extent that it has abandoned, or been abandoned by, the centre and is now essentially a right-wing party.
For example, among upper middle class and middle class voters Fine Gael commands 33pc support compared to Fianna Fail (17pc) and Sinn Fein (10pc).
But among lower middle class voters, Fine Gael falls back to 21pc support alongside Fianna Fail (21pc) and Sinn Fein (16pc).
Sinn Fein's core support is among skilled working class (28pc) and semi- and un-skilled working class (36pc); but somewhat surprisingly Fianna Fail is also polling relatively well among these voters at 21pc and 18pc respectively.
There are other indications of a return of support to Fianna Fail. For example, it is assumed that Sinn Fein has strongest support among younger voters. And indeed it has, particularly among those aged 25-34, the first generation raised in ceasefire conditions, where Sinn Fein has 32pc support compared to Fianna Fail (18pc) and Fine Gael (12pc).
The poll also shows Sinn Fein with 30pc support among those aged 18-24; but - what's this? - Fianna Fail (25pc) is close behind followed by Fine Gael (17pc) well off the pace.
Fianna Fail is also the frontrunner in two of the three other older age groups, who recall too well Sinn Fein's violent association and ambiguous present on rape and child sex abuse; and has narrowed the gap among the so-called negative equity generation, aged 35-49, where it is only two points behind Sinn Fein and four behind Fine Gael.
There are other straws in the wind: Fianna Fail is by far the most popular party among farmers (41pc), well ahead of Fine Gael (33pc) in its traditional power base, with Sinn Fein (6pc) totally marginalised by that influential cohort.
In fact, at the moment Fianna Fail (28pc) is easily the most popular party among all rural voters, comfortably ahead of Sinn Fein (22pc) and Fine Gael (20pc).
In urban areas Fianna Fail (17pc) is now breathing down the neck of Fine Gael (19pc) and has Sinn Fein (22pc) in its sights.
And in the Dublin cockpit Fianna Fail (15pc) also has both Fine Gael (20pc) and Sinn Fein (21pc) within range, but will have to broaden its appeal to win transfers in the capital, where after the local elections it now has 29 councillors.
This is just one opinion poll, of course, but with a decisive trend, the analysis of which has focussed attention on Sinn Fein and the Independents in the context of water charge protests.
That is understandable in the welter of debate around the issue; but the experts have taken their eye off of Fianna Fail, which has staked out the centre, now that Sinn Fein has flip-flopped on water charges and turned both ways on Mairia Cahill. In my view, Fianna Fail is in now best positioned to take advantage of doubts about those around them.
In you don't believe me, ask Paddy Power. I got poor odds of 6/4 on Micheal Martin to be Taoiseach after the next election, which I am informed means I stand to win €75 back with my €50. The proceeds will go to the Capuchin Day Centre.
And if you're a betting man, or woman, you will get 6/1 on Gerry Adams. Although this is a far better bet - 25/1 on Leo Varadkar to be the next Tanaiste.