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John Drennan: Fate of Fianna Fail rests on 16 key constituencies

AS Fianna Fail plummets in the polls, more than a dozen key constituencies will decide whether it can exist as a viable party after the next election.

Astonishingly, having already lost its Taoiseach a week before the campaign began, Fianna Fail is now perilously close to losing the current Tanaiste's Dail seat.

In what senior political observers called a "seismic'' development, Mary Coughlan is believed to be in real danger of losing her seat to independent candidate Thomas Pringle.

Until the election of Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty before Christmas, Donegal South- West was believed to be Fianna Fail heartland. But a Red C poll showed that even with Coughlan and Brian O Domhnail in the field, Fianna Fail had a mere 19 per cent of the vote, indicating the constituency is teed up for disaster from a FF perspective.

Sources within the constituency have claimed Ms Coughlan is now in real trouble, following "a massive disappointment in the minister'' at local level.

They noted "expectations were so high when she was in (the Department of) Enterprise, but instead Abbotts and other companies started shedding jobs across the board when she became the minister". In the recent by-election Pringle performed creditably and could expect to secure transfers from sources as diverse as Doherty, Dinny McGinley and Frank McBrearty. In contrast, ongoing tensions between the Coughlan and O Domhnail camps mean the Tanaiste will have to be very close to the quota on the first count to survive.

Donegal South-West is, however, only one of 16 key constituencies that will play a critical role in deciding Fianna Fail's fate after the election. The party, which has a derelict organisation and is in serious financial trouble, is resigned to losing at least 40 seats from its total of 78 in 2007. A number of constituencies hold the key to the party's future, which is so grim that the leader may not have a party to lead after the dust settles. Within Dublin real fears exist over the possibility it will lose the seats of John Curran in Dublin Mid-West, Darragh O'Brien in Dublin North, Chris Andrews in Dublin South-East, Mary Hanafin in Dun Laoghaire while Mary Fitzpatrick in Dublin Central is considered doubtful to win.

The party is also battling to avoid a wipeout in heartland constituencies such as Cork East, Cork North-West, Cork South-West and, most disturbingly of all, Cork North Central where Micheal Martin's willing apprentice Billy Kelleher is in serious trouble.

Fianna Fail is also poised to lose critical seats in the Republican heartlands of Kerry South and Kerry North, where polls suggest John O'Donoghue and Tom McEllistrim may lose their seats. The party is also facing the stark possibility of losing both its seats in Wexford, while it may suffer a similar fate in Meath East and West at the hands of FG and Labour.

Sunday Independent