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Fergus Finlay: I can hardly believe it but FF has finally run out of strokes

You'd have to wonder when they're going to put the sign up on the door of Fianna Fail headquarters -- "will the last person to leave please turn out the lights".

Every day, the tide of events moves further and further away from the party of government, while they appear to stagger around in a daze.

I know some commentators are saying that Fianna Fail has been trying to carry on a clever game of buying time to get its new leader in place and to get some kind of a campaign up and running.

And of course, two or three weeks of debate in Dail Eireann about a Bill that is already half voted through anyway would have suited it just fine.


But I think the truth is they've even lost the capacity to be cunning. We never thought we'd see the day, but Fianna Fail has finally run out of strokes.

In fact the party seems to be going through a political version of post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Sunday Brian Lenihan gave several interviews in which he appeared to think he'd be doing the Opposition parties a favour by sitting down to have a chat about the timetable of the Finance Bill.

And when Opposition leaders turned up at the Department of Finance, it seems they were first of all offered a meeting with civil servants, presumably to brief them on the contents of the Bill they'd already read.

But the game was up. The Labour motion of no confidence was the thing that finally concentrated the mind of the minister and his officials -- they either agreed to complete the Bill by Saturday or Brian Cowen would be going to the Aras on Wednesday night.

Even after being forced to agree the obvious, Lenihan still issued a statement "welcoming" this development.

Clearly, it's going to take him some time yet to realise that his days of relying on gobbledegook are over. And while he was still pretending to be Minister for Finance, two more party stalwarts bit the dust.

The decision of Ned O'Keeffe and Noel Ahern to call it a day, rather than face the electorate, was yet another sure indicator of the writing on the wall.

I met Ned O'Keeffe a few short weeks ago in Donegal, during the by-election.

If you'd asked me that night was he likely to contest the next election, I'd have been surprised at the question -- he was full of fight.

The fight has been drained out of him by the dawning realisation that his party has so badly let the country down, a realisation that he is too honest to deny.

So, it's game on. Travelling the country over the last couple of days, one thing is pretty clear. The Opposition has been ready for this election for quite a while, but it has yet to dawn on Fianna Fail that its date with destiny is looming ever closer.

In Cahir, Co Tipperary, last night I saw a van emblazoned with the name Mattie McGrath, and so far that's the only visible sign of a Fianna Fail candidate I've seen.

Mind you, you'd be hard pressed to find any reference to his party on the colourful livery of the van in question.


Meanwhile Fine Gael and Labour posters are beginning to shoot up all over the place, and the park where I live has already been extensively canvassed by Ivana Bacik. But we're not expecting to see anyone from the Government around our way.

There'll be lots of hollow speeches tomorrow, of course, when the new leader of Fianna Fail is chosen.

And no doubt there'll be a frantic effort to get new posters printed with Michael's most angelic expression on them.

But it's too late.It really doesn't matter now.

The party's over.