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John Drennan: Fine Gael matron to carry on up the polls

So what difference does the failure of the star to show on Vincent Browne's debate appear to have made?

It seems that Enda's imitation of Greta Garbo made absolutely no difference. The nation's chattering classes may have obsessed over Kenny's petulant decision to forego the dubious delights of a fire-side chat with Vincent. However, whilst the Sancerre-filled wine glasses may have been shaking in Sandymount, when it comes to the ground wars within our constituencies the whole flap has had a minimal impact.

Instead, our polls show Fine Gael is very close to securing an overall majority. On one level we should not be too surprised. This, after all would not be the first election where a gaffe-prone figure who was none too good at the details and who was despised by the intelligentsia secured a shock victory.

There are, of course, some who would say Mr Kenny isn't even a Ronald Reagan for he does not possess the easy charisma of America's cowboy president or the capacity to secure the affection of a nation.

The most intriguing feature of the polls continues to be the difference between FG's national and local support.

It could, however, be the case that Mr Kenny's unpopularity means that voters are reluctant to commit to FG on a national level.

In contrast the news for Fianna Fail within our polls is utterly bleak. Some titular chieftains such as Eamon O Cuiv and John O'Donoghue are surviving (and in truth the latter is only lingering) but to date the only bounce Micheal Martin has provided this party with is of the dead cat variety.

When it comes to the valleys of despair FF is not alone for Labour is, on the evidence of these polls, now struggling to even reach the start of the Spring tide.

The concern among Labour must now be that it will be relegated, in the critical last week of the campaign, to a reprise of the PDs' role in 2002. Though the independent vote remains strong, the desire, however, of the nation to hold the hand of the matronly FG nurse means poor Sinn Fein is also flapping around like some dinosaur watching the tide disappear from view.

DUBLIN CENTRAL

It is almost poignant to see the lesser beasts of prey fighting over the stricken carcass of the old Drumcondra mafia. However, life moves on and the one clear thing that we can say about this constituency is that it is still critical on a number of fronts.

If FF is to be more than a commune of the living dead then Mary Fitzpatrick, the constituency's anti-Bertie 'independent' FF candidate, must be elected for she is the future.

Labour had, during the gusty days of the Gilmore gale, been targeting two seats while if FG's revival in Dublin is the real deal then Pascal Donohoe is a must.

The same also applies to SF's Mary Lou McDonald if the party's hopes of being a genuine force in the next Dail are to be realised for outside of Pearse Doherty, Mary Lou is as close to being an intellectual as SF has got.

Our Dublin Central poll contains good news for SF and FG but the story is mixed for Labour. The C2 classes of Dublin Central will never love Mary Lou but on this occasion there is a seat for her.

The general swing to FG means the party is posed for a record vote in this traditionally hostile constituency.

But while Joe Costello will be battling to top the poll he is performing rather too well for Labour's good.

Unless Costello can learn to share the vote this means his running mate Aine Clancy will struggle to win the final seat.

The news, in contrast, might appear to be good for FF courtesy of Mary Fitzpatrick's fourth-place position.

But though she will be a couple of thousand votes ahead of Labour there is a real possibility of a Cyprian Brady II-style reprise of the events of 2007 for while Fitzpatrick has twice as many votes as Clancy a huge weight of left-wing transfers means this will go to the wire.

There will only be a couple of hundred votes in it but for now the prospect of a Fitzpatrick win and a FF come-back in the city is poor.

DUBLIN SOUTH EAST

FG has not won two seats here since the perfect era of Garret FitzGerald. In this auspicious election both Enda's friend Lucinda Creighton and her running mate Eoghan Murphy will skate home.

They might in South East have been laughing at Eoghan for canvassing with his mother but apparently it works.

In contrast the results for FF and Labour are stark; but for very different reasons. Chris Andrews was believed to be one of the safer FF candidates in Dublin. But if he is polling at 8 per cent then no Dublin FF candidate, with the exception of Brian Lenihan, is safe.

Andrews will contend until the final counts but the weight of votes is against a politician who has lost two-thirds of his 2007 first preferences.

The real pale faces, however, will come from the Labour ranks. It was believed that Kevin Humphries was a shoo-in for a second Labour seat. He may still just about survive but he will be engaged in a battle to the death with John Gormley for the last seat.

Such a result, which suggests the city has definitively swung in favour of FG, means that Labour is going to struggle to secure two seats in any of the Dublin constituencies.

In a result that might also give Shane Ross a reason to be concerned about Dublin South, the lowly poll rating of Paul Sommerville suggests that no amount of exposure on Vincent Browne or cheer leading by The Irish Times can secure an honest intellectual a Dail seat.

John Gormley's ongoing status as a contender means, surprisingly, the jig is not quite up for the Greens. Should Gormley pull off a surprise here then there may also be hopes for Trevor Sargent and Eamon Ryan. And if the Greens could come back with three seats . . . well maybe they won't miss those Mercs for too long.

CARLOW-KILKENNY

Rather like Laois Offaly this is original Fianna Fail country. Well, not any more it isn't, for in a stunning display of vote management, FG's three candidates are poised to be elected in the early counts. The most astonishing feature of the FF vote is the utter eclipse of the Aylward dynasty. It had been expected that Bobby Aylward would be contending closely with John McGuinness for the last seat but when it comes to the FF rump vote the latter's strong opposition to Brian Cowen appears to have given him a serious edge.

Labour will be almost as disappointed as FF. The party had expected to be contending for two seats but on these figures will be in a battle with SF for the last seat. Geographical factors and the absence of spare FG transfers mean that Ann Phelan may have an uncomfortable few counts before she is assured of securing the seat.

WEXFORD

This had been eyed up as a critical Labour gain. FF meanwhile was convinced the strong team of John Browne and Sean Connick would provide the party, in what has traditionally been a conservative constituency, with a rare two seats.

FG has won three seats in the past, yes back in Garret's day, but it was believed they were behind the eight-ball in this constituency.

Well all of that has gone out of the window after the arrival of independent Mick Wallace. In yet another astonishing feat of vote management, that would even impress those old pros in FF, FG will take three seats with some ease.

In contrast the bad news for Labour, whose ambitions may have been jolted by the arrival of Wallace, the best Cody can hope to do is to act as a sweeper for Howlin.

The real horror story for FF, however, is that Wallace is poised to, after less than a fortnight in politics, take out FF's 20-year poll topper John Browne while yet another one of the party's bright young Turks, Sean Connick, will not even make the starting gates.

KERRY SOUTH

So, is John O'Donoghue at the exit gate of Irish politics? It does appear that the Bull's frolics in those Venetian gondolas will cost him his seat. But while the Bull is ominously low in the water the strength of the FF gene pool in this constituency means he may survive.

Particular interest here will apply to the transfers of the independent candidate Tom Fleming, for if O'Donoghue hangs in and receives enough transfers from Michael Healy-Rae, he may secure the last seat.

However, should things go terribly wrong there is an outside chance that FG could elect two TDs. The two candidates are closely bunched at 16 per cent and having resolutely failed to elect an FG TD for 20 years it would not be beyond the guile of the Kerry South electorate to elect two FG TDs just in time for the party's return to government.

The odds, as of now though, are against such a development for both candidates would need to be nearer the 20 per cent mark.

In truth all parties will be casting acquisitive and somewhat shocked eyes at the vote secured by the South Kerry Independent Alliance candidate Michael Gleeson.

Kerry South has a tradition of throwing up exotic surprises but while Gleeson has figured in initial polls few would have expected him to be at 21 per cent. However, in a scenario where Labour, the Healy-Raes,Tom Fleming and the Bull are all faring badly then there will be a gap in the market and the former classy Kerry wing back may be the man to fill it.

Labour will be surprised by the low rating of their candidate but once again, as we saw last week, there is no swing to Labour in Munster.

As for the Jackie 'Dolly' Michael Healy-Rae party it looks very likely that it will be a case of out with the old (Jackie) and the new (Michael) and in with the Gleeson.

TIPPERARY SOUTH

Before the election it had been believed that in the aftermath of his three-year tour de force as the boy who cried wolf that Mattie McGrath would comfortably top the poll.

In contrast poor Martin Mansergh was a designated also-ran. FG with Tom Hayes was sure of a seat while it was believed that the battle for the last seat would be between Phil Prendergast of Labour and the ULA candidate Seamus Healy.

Well at least one of the pre-election predictions was right: Mansergh is a designated also-ran.

The first real shock here is that so is Mattie McGrath who is learning the hard way that loyalty is a political virtue.

The greatest shock of all, however, is that FG, via its previously unknown Clonmel candidate Michael Murphy, is poised to win a second seat.

Outside of being from Clonmel, Michael apparently is also well got with the Tipperary hurling team and around there that sort of stuff counts.

Once again Labour comes up short as instead the final seat will be taken by Seamus Healy of the ULA Alliance.

The fact that Healy will, however, have to wait until the last count to secure it indicates the strength of the current drift to the right.

SLIGO-NORTH LEITRIM

If there was a national swing to either Sinn Fein or Labour this, given its proximity to Donegal and the republican tradition, would be one of the bellwether constituencies.

There isn't, for both Labour's Susan O'Keeffe and SF's Michael Colreavy are far too low in the polls.

FF, though greatly diminished, will retain a seat but it will go to Marc MacSharry rather than the current incumbent Eamon Scanlon.

It will be nice to see one member at least of FF's new frontbench being elected.

In a result which confirms the nationwide swing to FG both John Perry and Tony McLaughlin will on these figures be comfortably elected.

It might be enough to secure Perry a junior ministry for something unimportant.

GALWAY WEST

Dev Og may not be sleeping on the job, well within the constituency at least, but this is still a wretched result for FF here. Labour will be pleased with their performance but simply electing one TD in a five-seat constituency is a long way from where they would have dreamed of being.

As with the rest of the election the real drama surrounds the performance of the battling FG foursome and two independents who are chasing three critical seats.

The contest between the two former PD independents, Noel Grealish and Tom Welby, may appear to be a somewhat parochial affair. But within a context where FG are edging closely towards a Bertie Ahern-style 1997 result it may yet be of critical importance.

When it comes to the FG quartet, Sean Kyne appears to be sufficiently ahead to guarantee his election while Tom Welby's lead over Grealish suggests that in spite of his best efforts to avoid being caught up in the collapse of the Government the wily former PD TD will pay the price.

This means that the last seat will be fought out between the FG troika of Brian Walsh, Fidelma Healy Eames and Hildegarde Naughton.

It's too close to call and were FG's support to drift upwards it is possible this troika will squeeze out Welby allowing the party to scoop three out of the five seats.

But were that to occur we really would be in 'up Mayo, let Enda lead on his own!' territory.

Sunday Independent