Fionnan Sheahan: FF's damage limitation is now disaster management
THE next government seems certain to be formed by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. What was thrown open for conjecture last night was who will lead the opposition?
Fianna Fail's freefall continued unabated in the first opinion poll since the IMF and EU rolled into Dublin and finalised the bailout.
Adding to Taoiseach Brian Cowen's woes, his party is now trailing Sinn Fein, which is on a high after the stunning victory by Pearse Doherty in the Donegal South-West by-election.
The backlash from the international rescue package saw Fianna Fail's support go into meltdown, hitting an all-time low of 13pc.
With a savage Budget yet to come, the prospects for the party in the coming weeks do not auger well. The opinion poll figures will certainly focus minds within the Fianna Fail and Green Party coalition.
Any Fianna Fail backbencher considering cutting and running by voting against the Budget's €6bn package of cuts and taxes will have to think twice.
On the figures available, there's not even going to be one Fianna Fail seat in many constituencies.
In the event of these devastating figures being repeated on polling day, Fianna Fail would come back with less than 25 TDs -- and lose about 55 seats.
All the opinion-poll data thus far has shown the party faring worst of all in Dublin, so the capital would be a Fianna Fail wasteland if anything resembling these results materialised.
Fianna Fail ministers and TDs genuinely feared the devastating blow of the arrival of the IMF and the rescue package had pushed them past the point of rescue in the next General Election, and that the future for the party was actually in jeopardy.
The damage to Mr Cowen's waning credibility by his bizarre denials of any bailout also led some to believe Fianna Fail couldn't possibly go into an election with him as leader. A collapse of morale in the party has been prompted by the feeling the damage to the party would take an entire generation to repair.
Where Fianna Fail figures used to believe the party would recover before the General Election, there are now genuine concerns of a loss of 50 seats in an unprecedented voter backlash.
Previously loyal party TDs are considering retiring at the next General Election to avoid the massive seat losses. These poll figures may advance those thoughts of resignation.
Mr Cowen has put in some forceful public performances over the past 10 days, but the rot has set in and its proving to be far too little, far too late.
The party is banking on its established TDs with long track records of constituency work on the ground pulling in an extra personal vote.
But UCC Department of Government lecturer Dr Theresa Reidy said the bailout for Ireland undermined Fianna Fail's economic reputation and its sovereignty credentials in the eyes of the voters.
"Fianna Fail is looking at significant electoral losses because it has lost its economic governance support base, and the IMF-EU involvement eroded its core nationalist credentials," she said.
Fianna Fail is not just into damage limitation, now its disaster management. The worse the figures get the more endangered Mr Cowen becomes.
An increasing number of TDs figure their chances might be marginally better with him removed from the picture. Not by a whole lot. Fianna Fail's brand is currently poison.