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After the party is the hangover – and Enda's could be big

AFTER the party comes the hangover. Enda Kenny and most of his ministers have spent the last few days being wined, dined and hailed as heroes all over the world.

Now they are returning home to a much less glamorous assignment – saving Fine Gael and Labour from losses in the local and European elections.

For both Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, the vote on May 23 must feel like a no-win situation. Both parties did extremely well in these contests five years ago, which means that this time the only way is down.

The big question is whether or not Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein can make enough gains to make either of them look like a credible alternative government.

In other words, this campaign will be about more than choosing 11 Irish MEPs and 949 city and county councillors. It should also be an interesting preview of the general election, now less than two years away.

Just as FF's performance in 2009 showed they were on the way out, any big defeats for FG or Labour will be seen as evidence of trouble ahead.

Enda Kenny knows this all too well, which is why he has put a lot of work into FG's candidate selection. He is sacrificing one of his best young ministers by allowing Brian Hayes to run for Europe in the Dublin constituency.

More dangerously, the Taoiseach has approved Kenny Egan's bid to become a Clondalkin councillor, despite some warning signs that the Olympic boxing medallist is not cut out to be a political heavyweight.

If FG are nervous about these elections, then Labour should be really spooked. There is a distinct possibility they will end up with no seats in Europe, since Nessa Childers has quit in disgust and the party's remaining two MEPs are replacements who were never elected.

Three years of austerity have also taken a heavy toll on Labour in local government, where 29 councillors have quit (10pc of their total) and many of the rest look vulnerable.

In short, FG and Labour canvassers are not exactly looking forward to knocking on voters' doors over the next nine weeks.

The government received an opinion poll bounce after Ireland exited the EU/IMF bailout last December, but much of that seems to have melted away.

While most economists agree we are over the worst (apart from the doom-mongering Professor Morgan Kelly), recovery so far has been slow and patchy.

STRUGGLING

All this should mean that opportunity knocks for Fianna Fail. Instead, Micheal Martin's party is still struggling to escape the past and could do even worse than its record low vote in 2009. A lot will depend on FF's performance in Dublin, where Euro candidate Mary Fitzpatrick is trying to recapture the support once given to her old enemy Bertie Ahern.

In fact, the only party champing at the bit for these elections is Sinn Fein. The Shinners' poor result of 8pc five years ago now looks like a blessing in disguise, as the polls suggest they should at least double that and emerge as the day's biggest winners.

On the other hand, all of their European contenders are first-timers who could triumph or fall flat on their faces depending on how the campaign unfolds.

As the great Irish-American politician Tip O'Neill once said: "All politics is local". Voters on May 23 will be influenced by water meters and potholes just as much as any great national issues. Our European Parliament races are often decided by personalities more than policies.

Even so, the next few weeks may well have a huge impact on Ireland's political landscape. Governments in trouble love to claim that the only really important poll is the one on election day. When the votes are counted on May 24, there will be no more excuses left.


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