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James Downey: Annihilation is the natural consequence of FF legacy

NOTHING in the Greens' political lives became them quite like the leaving of them. But there is no need to lavish praise on John Gormley and his pitiful crew for their part in forcing the demise of the Cowen Government and the March 11 General Election.

They had many opportunities to bring Brian Cowen's hapless reign to a conclusion with some semblance of order and dignity. They missed them all. Now both coalition parties will face the electorate in the most chaotic and discreditable circumstances imaginable -- indeed, beyond any previous imagining.

One minor question is whether they will be wiped out at the election. Perhaps not. Some opinion poll analyses suggest that John Gormley or Trevor Sargent, or even both, might have a chance of holding their seats. But Green influence on a future government has gone -- and for a very long time.

Not that it ever amounted to very much anyway. Strange to relate, two independent deputies, Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae, exerted more influence than the Greens in the outgoing Dail -- which is a shocking commentary on the Irish political system.

Their fate is now irrelevant. What matters in this election is the fate of Fianna Fail.

Never in their history have Fianna Fail entered an election campaign under such evil omens. Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, March 15 in our calendar. It is not too much to say that on March 11 Fianna Fail face assassination by the electorate.

Their rating in the opinion polls stands at 14pc. If this finding was replicated nationwide, they would hold a seat in every five-seat constituency -- and none anywhere else. But life is not so simple.

Fianna Fail are frequently held to gain ground during election campaigns. This is not entirely accurate, but let it stand for a moment.

Starting at a base of 14pc, they would do well to increase their support to 20pc by polling day. That is roughly half their traditional 'core' support. Disastrous -- but it could be even worse.

They are not fighting to place themselves in a position to participate in the next government. They are not even fighting to retain a position as a major party. They are now fighting for their very survival.

And they do not look as if they will fight well. Their finances, discipline and organisation are all in tatters. The grassroots are disillusioned. The rest of the population views Fianna Fail with anger and often with outright hatred.

Brian Cowen has no option but to base his campaign on an appeal to traditional party voters. No better man for it. But even in this context, their line of attack, which we have already seen in the wake of the farcical leadership contest, is very weak.

The line is as follows: The financial crisis struck us out of the blue. Since then, we have taken tough decisions to get the economy back on track. We can see signs of recovery.

None of this is true. The crisis was mostly the creation of the Ahern and Cowen Governments, along with their friends, the bankers and developers.

The decisions were indeed tough -- but usually wrong and spectacularly unsuccessful. The recovery, in so far as it exists at all, is more feeble than in almost any other country.

Even geography works against them. It is within the bounds of possibility that they could emerge from the election without a single Dail seat in Dublin city. One poll analysis gives them 2.7pc of the vote in the five-seat Dublin South Central constituency.

Their two leading lights in the region, Brian Lenihan and Mary Hanafin, came out of the leadership fiasco badly. They will struggle to hold their seats in Dublin West and Dun Laoghaire.

By this morning, the bookies will have revised their odds. Very likely, the smart money will go on a 'spread' of 20 to 30 seats for Fianna Fail -- enough for survival, if no more than that. Anything under 20 would bring us close to the end of Fianna Fail as we have known the party.

But nobody can foretell what further sensations will affect public opinion in the next few weeks. They are more likely to be unfavourable than otherwise.

Anyone looking for omens can easily see two which have coincided with the announcement of the election.

INFLATION has come back. For once, that is not the Government's fault. It has been brought to us by the rise in world commodity prices. But the Government will get some of the blame.

Secondly, the stampede of ministers out of office has alienated opinion further. They are seen as running away. And they will draw fat pensions. Incidents like this cause more outrage than grand issues of high finance. We have only to remember the anger sparked by the sight of the limousines drawing up at Farmleigh.

The incoming government can cut the pensions and get rid of the limousines. In the great scheme of things, they are trifles compared with the appalling economic problems it will have to face. Whatever the election result, whatever the fate of Fianna Fail in the polling booths, these are the party's real legacy -- to the new government, to its own remaining loyalists and to the country.

Irish Independent