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Wind is now in Fine Gael sails

THE impossible is now verging on the probable. The latest opinion poll shows that a single-party Fine Gael minority government is now the most likely outcome of the election, and an overall majority cannot be ruled out.

As of now, that is. More than most elections, the final week could bring big changes. There are many undecided voters, while those declaring a preference may not be sure about their choice.

It could go either way. Voters may like the idea of a single-party government for the first time in two decades. In which case, more may decide to cast their lot with Fine Gael. Or they may shy away from the idea, thinking the clash of opinions and inevitable compromises within a coalition may be a safer bet.

The precise relationship between Enda Kenny, his party, and its campaign success will keep political analysts busy for years.

He has the lowest satisfaction rating of any party leader, yet his party has done best. Eamon Gilmore still has a high ranking, but Labour has made heavy weather of the whole campaign.

It does suggest Irish general elections are less "presidential" than media appearances, complete with obligatory dark suit and red tie, would suggest. Unlike real presidential elections, people are choosing a government to be selected from the winning political parties. It appears they understand the distinction.

There will be even more analysis about why the campaigns turned out the way they did. It will be no great surprise if Micheal Martin's fresh approach is unable to overcome his party's disastrous showing. The relative performance of Fine Gael and Labour will require more careful study.

One possibility is that Labour relied too much on its leader's personality. Its frontbench has more experience than Fine Gael's and can match it at least in ability. Yet they seemed curiously absent, while Fine Gael appeared more as a team.

This played better to the deep sense of crisis among the population. The political parties generally failed to construct a new type of campaign for what was an entirely new situation. The combination of promises and blame was pretty much as usual, even if the figures involved were different.

In the absence of any radical new approach elsewhere, voters may have automatically defaulted to the traditional alternative to Fianna Fail. It did seem impossible that Fine Gael would ever find itself in that position again. Assuming it is confirmed on polling day, everything -- for us and for them -- will depend on what they make of it.

Irish Independent