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Fionnan Sheahan: Boom to bust: FF's spectacular collapse mirrors failing economy

THE voters waited in the long grass and exacted their retribution. Only a week ago, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin headed to his party heartland of Meath to appeal to his core supporters to back the party in a desperate bid to stave off some losses.

"This is old Fianna Fail," then local party TD Johnny Brady said as he introduced his leader.

The party was entering the general election with four TDs in the county's two constituencies of Meath East and Meath West, albeit with the two former ministers retiring.

A week is a long time in politics but what happened to Fianna Fail in this general election was determined well over two years ago.

Old Fianna Fail wasn't enough to save the party and Meath is one of the counties with no Fianna Fail TD in a symbolic result.

In a picture replicated across the country, Fine Gael took two of the party's seat to become the dominant force in the county, Labour the next seat and Sinn Fein the final.

Fianna Fail's calamitous performance has utterly redrawn the political map.

More than 470,000 voters abandoned the party.

The 2011 General Election was lost by Fianna Fail long before the Dail was dissolved on February 1.

The party's management of the economy, which proved to be its trump card in the 2007 General Election campaign when the country voted for the good times to keep rolling, came back to bite Fianna Fail.

The decline in the party's fortunes began with the economic downturn in 2008, accelerated with the bank guarantee scheme and the pouring of funds into the system and was exacerbated by the Budget cutbacks and tax hikes over the following two years.

The final straw was the arrival of the EU and IMF for the international bailout and the loss of the nation's sovereignty.

The botched Cabinet reshuffle and the collapse of the coalition and merely confirmed the image of rank ineptitude.

Mr Martin's attempts to rewrite history and recast Fianna Fail's image in the voter minds proved to be far too little, far too late.

Unlike the riots on the streets of Greece, the Irish people just bided their time and participated in the so-called pencil revolution.

Fianna Fail, the dominant force in politics in this State for so long, is now just another party.

The party is now facing the long road back, travelled by Fine Gael, and will have to rebuild its entire image, reputation, policies and organisation.

Fianna Fail lost almost three-quarters of its seats off an unprecedented 24pc drop it its vote.

Everybody feasted on the Fianna Fail carcass and capitalised upon the demise of the Green Party.

Of the 64 seats on offer, Fine Gael picked up an extra 24-25, Labour 16-17 extra seats, Sinn Fein 8-9 extra seats and Independents and other groups 10-11 seats by last night.

Fianna Fail was left with about 20 seats in a dramatic fall from grace and the Greens were left without a TD for the first time since 1989.

All the outgoing opposition parties and non-party candidates benefited from the groundwork put in over the past few years.

Fine Gael's bank of policy documents produced over the past two years gained the party credibility on economic affairs.

The Labour Party expressed the anger of those who had seen their lives devastated by the downturn and offered the chance to break from the Civil War parties.

Sinn Fein and Independent candidates and groups proposed alternative means of addressing the crisis from the mainstream parties.

The campaign over the past month actually changed very little and certainly not the minds of voters in their verdict on Fianna Fail.

After being told far out from polling day the result was pre-determined and a Fine Gael-Labour coalition would emerge, the electorate was given the opportunity to elect a single-party government.

Labour managed to stop the momentum behind Fine Gael by warning of the prospect.

In the end, the choice was clear and a coalition government involving Fine Gael and Labour will emerge.

The 31st Dail will be extremely diverse with the new government holding a majority block of about 112 TDs.

Having such a large number brings its own drawbacks and Kenny will recall that the last Taoisigh to enter government with such numbers, Jack Lynch and Albert Reynolds, were leaving Government Buildings within two years.

The opposition benches will be made up of a bruised and battered Fianna Fail on about 20 seats, a resurgent Sinn Fein on about 14 and a wide array of 20 others, including a block of hard left TDs.

To say it will be colourful is an understatement.

Getting elected is often the easy part. Retaining a seat is the real challenge. Some of those elected will struggle to make a mark and get swallowed up by the system.

But the public have clearly voted for a change from the old ways.

The volatility of the voters was illustrated in the most dramatic fashion to date in this country. But any of those TDs elected this weekend who think they won't be dumped out just as easily are deluding themselves.

The people have spoken in a historic election. The new Teachtai Dala -- the messengers of the people to the parliament -- had better heed the message from their constituents.

Irish Independent Supplement