So, is outright victory within FG's grasp?
FF has been saved by Micheal Martin, but Sinn Fein is haunted by Gerry Adams and the Provos - what will Mary Lou do
One of my mates lost his shirt in the recession. He is now a supporter of Sinn Fein. His view has become 'so what' if Sinn Fein is involved in criminality and 'so what' if the IRA Army Council controls Sinn Fein. He said as much last Sunday night when we had a pint in the company of another mate, who is a Labour supporter. I support neither of these or any party, although they both seem to think I am a supporter of Fianna Fail. Neither believes me when I tell them that I have not voted Fianna Fail since the last millennium. However, I try to explain to them that Fianna Fail is essential to the country, that it will never go away, that it is deeply ingrained in the DNA of people, as I have written, since before the Civil War, since the arrival of the Anglo-Norman and new English, in fact, to collide with the 'native' Gaelic people.
This argument is lost on them; so I tell them, well, actually I'm just up for the underdog, or against the mob for contrariness sake, and for a long time the mob had turned against Fianna Fail. Not any more. My mate, the Labour supporter agrees, but says Fianna Fail should not be returned to government for at least two terms. The majority agree. Our opinion poll today confirms it. Fianna Fail is unlikely to win this election, but it has been saved. Micheal Martin has done a good job. Fianna Fail will comfortably lead the opposition.
As I will tell my mates tonight, this poll also tells us that Fine Gael will win the election and that Enda Kenny, who has had a surge in popularity despite his ATM machines gaffe, will be the next Taoiseach. By and large, this poll tells us, people are happy enough with him, although they do not love him. He will do, seems to be the emerging consensus. He is more popular than Joan Burton and Gerry Adams, and neck-and-neck with Micheal Martin, so whatever his faults and failings, Kenny is relatively well regarded in this country at the moment. Until now, the only question was with whom would he form the next government, but this poll also raises a new prospect: can Fine Gael win an overall majority? Such is the surge in support for the party after the Budget that the possibility exists, if such momentum can be maintained. Now there's a thought.
Failing that, the question is will Labour win enough seats to return the Coalition to power. This poll also indicates that is possible, not by Labour's continued low support, but by the three-year high in the Coalition's popularity, and by a boost in the popular support of Burton. There is a pulse. The Coalition could still win, but it would require an almighty surge in support, particularly for Labour. More likely, this poll tells us, Fine Gael, Labour and Independents - probably traditional Independents - will make up the next government, although there is also a lesser possibility that Fine Gael as a minority government will ultimately have to rely on the support of Fianna Fail (in opposition) to form a government.
This poll also tells us that there isn't the remotest chance that Sinn Fein and the far left will form the next government, which would be my mate's most favoured outcome. "Don't believe polls. Remember the British election?" he says, which makes me think Fine Gael could win an overall majority.
What this poll also tells us is that Sinn Fein has peaked, with no forward momentum at all in the last three such polls, although the party will still seek to present its holding steady in the teeth of the Provisional IRA revelations as a sign of strength, which of course it is.
However, it is Sinn Fein and not Fianna Fail who should be doing better, if the narrative is to be believed: the narrative that Sinn Fein is the coming force and Fianna Fail is in terminal decline, destined to go the way of the SDLP. This poll shows that not to be the case. Fianna Fail is getting stronger all the time. When I discuss politics with my mates, it pleases me to say this to them, the reasons for which they fail to understand.
This poll also tells us that no matter what may emerge between now and the election, Sinn Fein will have to retrench to shore up core support under threat from the far left; that is, among those aged up to 40 at most, among casual or lowest grade workers and others who depend on social welfare for income; among semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers and, to a lesser extent, among skilled manual workers; also primarily among men and those urban based.
In other words, Sinn Fein has, by and large - and despite seven years of austerity which devastated most people - failed to win or shore up (for certain) enough support among skilled manual workers and the middle classes to be contenders for government after the election.
The Provisional IRA is haunting Sinn Fein. This poll tells us that a third of its own supporters, some of whom say 'so what', do not actually want Sinn Fein to be in government at all, which is an extraordinary finding.
As such, a question mark is over the future of the entire Sinn Fein project, even though the reasoning goes that the party's real aim is to take power in the election after this. I have my doubts it will succeed then either.
This poll tells us the main problem for Sinn Fein is Adams, who, it is my contention, will still lead Sinn Fein into the election after this. If he (and the IRA Army Council) decides the time is opportune for him to stand down, the question arises as to whether the person chosen to replace him will assist Sinn Fein to make a breakthrough in the middle classes. My assessment is that they will not choose Mary Lou McDonald, and I remain of the view that she will have serious questions to ask of herself at that point.
There is only so much a woman can pretend to put up with. If she does leave, it will lead to a split in Sinn Fein. Regardless, the opportunity for a left government, or even a left-led government, is already lost for another generation.
This election was the best opportunity the left ever had. The poll tells us that Fianna Fail will be better positioned to retain its skilled working-class vote and appeal more fully to the middle classes in the election after this.
Also hidden within the poll, however, is a stronger than you might expect sneaking regard between Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, although not between Sinn Fein and Martin. I expect the middle classes and older generations will give strategic preference votes to Martin in this election to do serious damage to Sinn Fein.
This poll also tells us that many are waiting to see who will win the election before they decide whether to pay water charges. In all likelihood, if Fine Gael wins, or Fine Gael and Labour (with traditional Independents) win, a majority will finally pay up, although Irish Water will always remain an unloved beast.
It is also evident that crime is a big issue: one-in-four in your neighbourhood fears being a victim of crime, although not so big as to turn the election against Fine Gael. You could probably say the same about the homeless/rent issue, and the hospital trolley scandal - that they preoccupy people, anger them, but the extent of those feelings will only decide whether the next government is Fine Gael on its own, or with a combination of Labour and Independents, or whether Fine Gael will be reliant on Fianna Fail to form a minority government.
As me and my mates eventually agree - who knows?