WHEN Fianna Fail slumped close to single digits in the opinion polls recently, the chattering classes raised that hairy old chestnut: why don't they merge with Fine Gael?
The problem for Micheal Martin making a deal when his party has crashed is that 'merger' is really just a polite euphemism for 'takeover'.
Yet there are logical arguments for the parties uniting and the most obvious is that they are ideological soulmates who share a preference for free enterprise and a suspicion of socialism.
And there is another reason: a reunion of old Sinn Fein would be a fitting symbol to bring finality to the ending the Civil War that only ran for 11 months, nearly 88 years ago.
For more than three generations two parties who are basically different sides of the same coin have pitted themselves against each other.
Family ties and history have fed inherited prejudices in both parties where the flame of old enmities is sometimes lovingly tended.
In other countries that left the British Empire, brothers-in-arms shared a struggle for independence and then engaged in a blood feud -- but they got over it.
A management consultant more interested in maximising efficiency than nurturing sentiment, would almost certainly recommend an eventual reunion.
A glossy consultant's report imaginatively presented and correspondingly expensive, would probably begin with a rambling sociological essay.
It would suggest their shared political values far outweigh those social differences that appeared stark in the early years of the State, but have become blurred after the relative prosperity of recent years.
It would conclude that both parties should begin a process that could progress to exploratory talks and an eventual mutually beneficial merger.
The same arguments were rehearsed in 2002 when Fine Gael dropped 23 seats and returned with just 31 and fusion with Fianna Fail was proposed as a solution to their problems.
A fresh-faced Enda Kenny took over the leadership of a defeated and thoroughly demoralised Fine Gael -- but it was another party who approached them seeking a merger.
The PDs referred to 'Operation Teatime', a codename saluting Fine Gael grandee Peter Barry, when they spoke about their merger proposal.
Both parties drew up a list of names for a merged PD-Fine Gael and a number of secret meetings took place, but led to nothing.
Meanwhile, then Labour leader Pat Rabbitte rebuffed the advances of Bertie Ahern, who wanted a deal to secure the 2007 election for Fianna Fail.
Enda Kenny and Pat Rabbitte developed the 'Mullingar Accord' as a joint programme for the 2007 election, but could not compete with Fianna Fail's barnstorming campaign.
But the 2011 general election is Fine Gael's and Labour's to lose and Fianna Fail is bracing itself for humiliation and defeat -- or maybe a merger.
The most Pollyanna forecasts say Fianna Fail will lose as many as half of the 78 seats they won in 2007 in the upcoming general election and those are the party's never-say-die optimists.
They slid from 22pc in September to 16pc in yesterday's Millward Brown Lansdowne poll in the 'Sunday Independent'.
And 22pc of those who voted for Fianna Fail in 2007 say they will switch to Fine Gael while 19pc of them will go to Labour and 18pc to Independents.
For many years those who voted for Fianna Fail wouldn't even give a preference to Fine Gael and now their arch enemies are benefiting most from Fianna Failers' disillusion.
The Labour Party has been the biggest beneficiary of the transfer of votes from public sector workers who voted Fianna Fail in 2007.
And the Labour Party has a plan to become the perpetual party of government, where they would dictate their terms to either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail -- if FF ever recover to become a potential coalition partner in the future.
If they can maintain their support around 25pc, the Labour Party will be auditioning coalition partners after future elections.
However, Micheal Martin has already moved to block off that strategy by offering Fianna Fail's support for a minority Fine Gael government.
Fianna Fail is in no position to play hardball with anyone: it needs to atone for its past two terms in government and supporting Fine Gael would be a start.
All three of the major parties share an overview of how to deal with the economy over the next four years but Fianna Fail's plan is closer to Fine Gael's than Labour's.
Martin could easily agree a programme for government with Enda Kenny but Fine Gael wants to punish Fianna Fail; to humble the party that never passed up an opportunity to humiliate them.
And whatever high-minded principles are behind the arguments to merge Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, there are other more basic considerations to be dealt with.
Whatever about Dublin and the other cities, rural Ireland is still largely a two-party culture -- Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee or Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
And many of them say 'vive la difference' despite rumblings about the EU bailout.