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Kevin Doyle: 'Gloves are off and all the signs are that election will be dirty one'

  

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The Loveless marriage between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is over and the process of conscious uncoupling has begun.

Having worked together to ensure the "centre" held for the past three years, the parties are now winding up for one of the most intriguing elections in modern times.

Leo Varadkar is ahead in the polls but the bookies have Micheál Martin as favourite to be the next Taoiseach.

The atmosphere in Leinster House this week has been feverish as TDs from both sides intensely briefed each other and anybody who would listen on 'Votegate'.

Fine Gael has enjoyed the controversy immensely while Fianna Fáil has been angry at everybody - but particularly the pair at the centre of it: Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins.

Very little actual work has been done as political staff played a game of "gotcha", desperately searching for video clips of rivals missing in action.

A Cabinet meeting in which the agenda included Brexit and climate action was repeatedly interrupted as worried advisers contacted ministers to alert them to allegations of "phantom voting".

At one point, Health Minister Simon Harris had to leave the room to play a very Irish game of Where's Wally? Luckily for him, an eagled-eyed adviser found him actually sitting in the Fianna Fáil benches talking to the party's spokesperson on older people, Mary Butler.

By the time Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty left Cabinet to investigate her whereabouts during a vote on legislation to protect renters, the allegations were already being widely reported.

Defence Minister Paul Kehoe needed the assistance of other ministers and the zoom function to conclusively identify himself behind a pillar during a vote.

Fianna Fáil kept digging and Fine Gael became more and more frustrated as the hours went by.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said claims that he had placed absentee votes were "nonsense".

"These attempted smears now coming from Fianna Fáil only prove that they don't understand the gravity of their potentially fraudulent action," he told the Irish Independent.

The Ceann Comhairle will publish the outcome of his report today which will aim to bring a curtain down on the debacle.

The rules will be tightened up and it will be a brave TD that fails to sit in their own seat when the weekly votes begin in Leinster House at 1.02pm today.

By next week, we will have moved back to watching the House of Commons - but the first real blows of the next election have been struck and they were dirty.

The 32nd Dáil will be stumbling on for a few more months but confidence and supply is dead.

The gloves are off and they won't be going back on.

Irish Independent