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Let 'Big Mo' splash some colour across those 40 shades of grey

Shane Coleman


A good chunk of voters still haven't made up their minds, and everything hangs on the last few days

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'The last few days of the campaign will put a definite colour on our 40 shades of grey, and, in turn, on the next government.' Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

'The last few days of the campaign will put a definite colour on our 40 shades of grey, and, in turn, on the next government.' Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

PA

'The last few days of the campaign will put a definite colour on our 40 shades of grey, and, in turn, on the next government.' Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The general election is three-quarters done and dusted. Not just in terms of the actual duration of the campaign - we are about 75pc through the 26 days on the hustings - but in the actual number of seats we can now confidently allocate.

In every general election, there are a couple of freakish bolts from the blue. But we can say with confidence that around 120 seats are now pretty much nailed on. From Michael Healy-Rae in Kerry up to Pearse Doherty in Donegal across to Declan Breathnach in Louth and down to Brendan Howlin in Wexford, there are the best part of 120 politicians across the 39 constituencies who, though they'd never admit it, know deep down they're going to be in the next Dail.

But that still leaves 25pc, or 40 of the seats, still to play for. Forty shades of grey. Forty individual battles to decide the formation of the next government.

Here's what we know six days out from polling. Unless Fine Gael pulls off the biggest electoral comeback since polls began (yes, bigger than the late FF push in 2007), Fianna Fail is going to have the biggest number of seats. The Greens are going to have their best ever general election. Sinn Fein will do better than seemed remotely possible last summer, when the party nearly imploded in the local elections. Labour only has two, at a push three, bankers. Solidarity-People Before Profit has maybe one.

The 40 seats still in the mix will dictate whether Fianna Fail can push towards 60 TDs; if Fine Gael can get to within seven or eight seats of FF and maybe stay in the mix for government formation; if Labour has a future in Irish politics; and if there really is a surge towards Sinn Fein.

And that's where the 'Big Mo' - the phrase first used in a political context by George Bush 40 years ago - comes in. Which party, if any, will have momentum in this final week?

Sinn Fein has had some of it, boosted by a decent campaign and good (though possibly inflated) poll figures.

Fianna Fail and the Greens have been solid, if not spectacular.

Fine Gael has resembled a team playing into a stiff wind, struggling to make any impact on the opposition and then conceding a couple of entirely avoidable own goals.

Two weeks ago, I went through each of the 39 constituencies and came up with a prediction of 55 FF seats; 46 for FG; 17 for SF; 11 for the Greens; 8 for Labour; 2 for the Social Democrats; 2 for Solidarity/PBP; 1 for Aontu and 18 Independents.

But the ground has shifted since then. The big mover is Sinn Fein. A fortnight ago I wasn't giving the party seats in Carlow-Kilkenny, Dublin West, Limerick City, Sligo-Leitrim and a second in Donegal. All now look likely.

The party is well in the hunt for second seats in Louth and Dublin Mid-West, possibly even Cavan-Monaghan. Even outliers like Meath East are now genuine targets. It now looks set to equal, and possibly better, its 2016 tally of 23 which, given some high profile departures over the past four years, had seemed out of reach even a fortnight ago.

What of the big two? At the start of the campaign it looked as if the two parties between them would garner 100-plus of the seats. The strength of Sinn Fein means that figure could be down to 95, possibly less.

While there's still a week to change that, I'm more pessimistic about Fine Gael now than two weeks ago. At that point, I was giving Fine Gael two seats in Cavan-Monaghan, Clare, Dublin Bay South, Dun Laoghaire, Galway West, Laois-Offaly, Wicklow and Mayo. How safe are those seats now? Not very.

Heather Humphreys will be first or second in Cavan-Monaghan but TP O'Reilly, though odds-on with the bookies, is not safe if FG is at 23pc nationally.

In Clare, Joe Carey is under serious pressure to hold the party's second seat from Independent Michael McNamara. But Fine Gael is confident of doing that. I think they're probably right.

Galway West is wide open with five from two Fianna Fail, two Fine Gael, two Independents, a Green, a Social Democrat and Sinn Fein all in with a shout of a seat. Anyone who can confidently predict the winners here other than Eamon O Cuiv and one FG is spoofing. But two for FG looks doubtful.

As is the case in Dublin Bay South, where one of Eoghan Murphy and Kate O'Connell is under threat from Labour's Kevin Humphreys or Chris Andrews of SF.

At the start of the campaign I thought FG's Jennifer Carroll MacNeill would edge out Richard Boyd Barrett in Dun Laoghaire but, with the latter shining in last Monday's leaders' debate and FG struggling in the polls, that now looks out of reach.

There's skin and hair flying between the FG candidates in Mayo, however, the lack of a serious rival - both SF's Rose Conway-Walsh and the Greens' Saoirse McHugh look long shots - means they should hold the two there.

Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy must be under threat from FF in Laois-Offaly and there's an outside chance Andrew Doyle in Wicklow could be caught by a Green wave in Wicklow.

The party is confident of holding two seats in Carlow-Kilkenny. It could, but I wasn't convinced a fortnight ago; I'm even less so now.

In Meath East, despite a strong ticket with ministers Regina Doherty and Helen McEntee, there is a real threat from Sinn Fein. Doherty was only 1,000 votes ahead of SF's Darren O'Rourke in 2016 - if the FG vote is down a couple of points nationally and SF's is up a couple, the maths suggest that seat could go.

And the prospect of the party winning no seats in Sligo-Leitrim and Cork South-West cannot be ruled out.

With the bounce of the ball in most of these constituencies, Fine Gael could hit the mid-40s seat wise. But unless the party's focus on the economy pays dividends in the coming week, 41/42 seats looks a more realistic tally. It could even be worse than that.

Labour has also found the campaign tough going. Brendan Howlin is guaranteed in Wexford. Sean Sherlock (Cork East) and Alan Kelly (Tipperary) should be fine, as should Duncan Smith (Dublin Fingal).

After those four, it's a lot tighter. I think Aodhan O Riordain and Ged Nash will make it in Dublin Bay-North and Louth respectively. Mark Wall (Kildare South) and Kevin Humphreys (Dublin Bay South) are in there for the final seat. But the odds are against both Joan Burton in Dublin West and Jan O'Sullivan in Limerick City.

What of the Greens? Climate change has barely featured in the national debate but that doesn't mean it isn't a priority in homes, particularly in urban areas.

A fortnight back, I had the Greens in contention in 17 seats, winning 11. Of those 17, six are bankers - Dublin Bay-North, Dublin Bay-South, Dublin Fingal, Dublin Rathdown, Dublin South-West and Dun Laoghaire. Another three are very likely: Dublin West, Dublin South-Central and Dublin Central.

But with the Greens struggling to get out of the shadow of FF, FG and SF nationally, their chances in the other eight constituencies (Carlow-Kilkenny, Limerick City, Waterford, Wicklow, Louth, Galway West, Clare and Mayo) though still very much alive, have perhaps receded a bit. But it is clear the Greens are going to have a very good election.

As, it seems, are Fianna Fail. But how good? The bookies have the party at 53 seats (nine up from 2016, but two below where I had FF two weeks ago). That would see it as the biggest party but a long way off the 80 seats needed to form a government, even with the Greens and Labour factored in. Party strategists believe that if they can generate a bit of the aforementioned 'Big Mo' this weekend, the party can move towards 60 seats.

Of the marginal constituencies, I'm still (tentatively in some cases) backing them to win three seats in Carlow-Kilkenny and two in each of Clare, Cork North-Central, Cork North-West, Donegal, Kildare North, Limerick City, Longford-Westmeath and Wicklow.

Second seats in Sligo-Leitrim and Kerry are doable but more 50-50 territory or worse, as is a third in Kildare South.

I think they might sneak a second seat in Dublin South-West with comeback 'kid' Charlie O'Connor. Elsewhere in Dublin, the party is on course to gain seats in Dublin Central, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin North-West and Dublin South-Central.

Jim O'Callaghan should hold on in Dublin Bay South. On a good day for FF, Shay Brennan will edge out Shane Ross in Dublin Rathdown and a third seat could be even be on in Wexford (though probably not).

If they win those last two, then the party will be at, or close to, 60 seats and with a good chance of forming a stable coalition government.

But so much hangs on these last few days. Don't believe the polls - a good chunk of voters still haven't definitely made up their minds.

The last few days of the campaign will put a definite colour on our 40 shades of grey, and, in turn, on the next government.

Sunday Independent