At a conference two years ago, party strategists suggested they could win as many as 30 additional seats if the election went to plan. They had outlined in detail where they expected to gain and at whose expense.
However, this weekend, a senior strategist identified only 22 constituencies where the party has a realistic chance of gaining additional seats. Fine Gael has 32 seats, so the revised estimate means the party would win 54 seats at best in the next election.
Eighty-three seats are needed to form a majority in the Dáil. Fine Gael was always going to be dependent on Labour and the Greens to form a majority and take office. However, it is clear that the party will require an exceptionally good day at the polls — and hope Labour and the Greens enjoy gains too — if that goal is to be achieved.
Fine Gael was left with just 31 seats after the disastrous election of 2002, a figure which rose to 32 when Independent TD Liam Twomey was successfully recruited to the party.
Labour has 21 seats, while the Greens have six. Combined, the three parties have 59 seats.
Twenty-two additional seats for Fine Gael would bring that total to 81. Marginal gains for Labour and the Greens would allow the three parties to form a majority.
If Labour and the Greens merely held steady, the parties could reach out to a handful of independents to form the majority.
But both those scenarios are dependent on Fine Gael coming as close as possible to its target of 22 gains — and, put simply, the party would need everything to go right for that to happen.
For instance, the strategist identified Cork north-west as one of the constituencies where Fine Gael hopes to gain an extra seat. But Cork north-west is going to be one of the toughest battles in the election.
Fine Gael has one TD there, Gerard Murphy, while Fianna Fáil has two — Michael Moynihan and Donal Moynihan.
In addition, because of boundary changes, junior minister Batt O’Keeffe will be standing in the constituency this time out and is expected to take one of the three seats.
For Fine Gael to win a second seat, it would mean both Moynihans would have to be defeated. Dublin south-east is another constituency where Fine Gael has targeted a gain, the party having a strong young candidate in Lucinda Creighton.
But for her to win, it would mean either John Gormley, Michael McDowell, Eoin Ryan or Ruairí Quinn losing their seats, which might be too much to ask.
The strategist admitted Ms Creighton would have to “shoot an elephant” to achieve her goal, but added: “It’s a seat we really want to win.”
For the record, Fine Gael earmarked the following constituencies for gains at the weekend:
Carlow-Kilkenny,Cavan-Monaghan, Cork east, Cork north-west, Cork south central, Cork south-west, Donegal north-east, Galway east, Laois-Offaly, Limerick east, Limerick west, Louth, Mayo, Sligo-North Leitrim, Tipperary north, Dublin north, Dublin north-east, Dublin south, Dublin south-east, Dublin south-west, Dublin west and Dun Laoghaire.