Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin might be tempted to take some Charles Dickens down from the bookshelf today and start adding in his own, personalised chapter.
It’s not quite a tale of two cities for the soldiers of destiny, more a tale of two elections, with the party retaining pole position in this weekend’s local elections but slumping badly in a key MEP midlands contest it needed to boost its image.
While Mr Martin and other senior party figures are trying their best to spin the “biggest party in local government” line, the reality is the likely failure to benefit from a Brussels bounce will take some of the shine off those legitimate claims.
As the votes continue to be counted across the country, Fianna Fáil’s multi-election weekend is at best a mixed bag for its leadership. And behind the spin, it knows it.
The positives are notable, and are worth acknowledging.
Eight years on from seeing a near wipe-out in Dublin and other key areas, Mr Martin’s party has surged back to retain its position as the biggest party in local government for the second local election running.
With 541 of the 949 local election seats confirmed by 7pm yesterday, Fianna Fáil was at risk of losing dozens of seats.
However, it was still far ahead of other parties, with a breakdown placing the party on 171 seats, Fine Gael on 140, Sinn Féin 37, Greens 34, Labour 33 and Independents 106 — and crucially increasing its overall vote, albeit by 1.6%.
A closer examination also shows the party’s local base has grown in Dublin - vital, given population numbers.
Local election 2019 has seen the party’s traditional Dublin north-side strongholds like Donnaghmede (29%), Artane (19%) and Finglas-Ballymun (26%) return.
In particular, the election of two councillors in the latter ward has raised hopes of general election candidate Paul McAuliffe — one of those councillors — legitimately challenging Fine Gael’s Noel Rock for the Dublin North West Dáil seat.
In addition, Fianna Fáil has seen the emergence of credible and young local election candidates.
Deputy leader and key strategist Dara Calleary said last night: “We have injected some new blood into the mix, we have the highest number of under 35s running.
We’ll still be the biggest party in local government [there’s that line again], and I’m happy with it.
So, if everything is this rosy at local level, what is the problem? Put simply, national prominence and that oh-so-political problem — image.
While Fianna Fáil has had a comparatively good local election compared to its main rivals, in Europe it is a very different story.
Yes, Ireland South is likely to see Cork North Central TD Billy Kelleher elected, with the growing possibility of Wexford councillor Malcolm Byrne also packing his bags for Brussels.
And, yes, party royalty Barry Andrews is in the mix in Dublin, with predictions he will do better than the 12% RTE-TG4-Red C exit poll claim and early evidence he is winning transfers from Frances Fitzgerald and others.
However, in the sprawling 13 county Midlands North West constituency — so long the party’s heartland — Fianna Fáil has, for the second MEP race running, come up short, with TDs Brendan Smith and Anne Rabbitte’s performance so poor Mr Calleary told RTE on Saturday morning:
“It’d be a bigger miracle than the one at Knock to pull this one [a Fianna Fáil seat] off.”
It’s a good joke, but no one in party headquarters will be laughing.
And given the fact the exit poll placed Mr Smith at a whopping 0% among 18-24-year-olds, with Mr Andrews not far ahead on 2% among the same group, it is an issue that cannot be ignored.
Something for Mr Martin to ponder as he adds another chapter to his leadership tale.