We’ve hit a bailout iceberg and the Government is finally sinking

THE last vestige of credibility evaporated from the Progressive Democrats from the moment Michael McDowell hoist the petard that the PDs were exiting government — only to subsequently change their minds.

The Greens are now in the crosshairs of public obliteration for their dithering on the date of the Dáil dissolution. Having clearly articulated a late January/early February timetable for the completion of the legislative implementation of the budget, they now are pursuing other legislative agendas. Nothing irritates the public more than utter internal confusion in a governing party. Each day delayed will result in a further decline in party support.

There’s only one show in town. Already, political rhetoric is naked electioneering. Yesterday’s IMF/EU bailout vote was tactical posturing to corner opposition parties. By voting against the package, FG and Labour stand accused of not providing adequate cash to run the state in 2011 and beyond. This vote was deemed unnecessary two weeks ago. It is only now required for election manoeuvres. Brian Cowen’s opposition onslaught, about policy differences between FG and Labour, amounts to the key point of the FF election proposition.

So, is the election a done deal? Will it be a slam dunk that Enda Kenny will lead an FG/Labour government? What are the realisable objectives of each government party? Who will hit the headlines as big name casualties? Ongoing opinion polls effectively benchmark shifts in public opinions and voter intentions. Consistent trends suggest voter volatility has settled down and a clear verdict is anticipated. The “something will turn up” hopes on the government benches have persisted for over a year. Each time the news gets even worse. Imminent prospects for 2011 are for even greater bank losses, increased redundancies and more bailout funds. Expect worse news.

FF backbenchers harboured hopes that the nightmare of the past two years could abate at one stroke. The suggested scenario was that Cowen would fall on his sword in early January and a revitalised new leader could jettison the past and embrace a fresh new start. Cowen derailed this delusion with his trenchant hostility to internal opponents. He ain’t going anywhere prior to polling. FF candidates are stuck with him. The realisation of their fate is dawning. The legendary World Cup adage “They think it’s all over… it is now” has hit home. Cowen’s legacy as Minister for Finance and Taoiseach is inescapably the key referendum of the campaign. Any airbrushing was dependent on a different leader.

How bad can it get for FF? They won 78 seats in 2007. The soldiers of destiny enter the fray minus seats held by Seamus Brennan, Jim McDaid, Joe Behan, Martin Cullen and Pat “the Cope” Gallagher. New rules pertaining to ministerial pensions for serving TDs mean a huge incentive for a former ministerial exodus. Deputies who served 20 years in the Dáil are at the maximum entitlement for a TD’s pension. The deferral of any ministerial or Oireachtas pension drawdown can cost former office holders tens of thousands of euro. The attraction of being an opposition TD is minimal. It’s a hiding to nothing. Anticipate extra retirements. Bertie Ahern, Mary Harney, Michael Woods, Noel Dempsey can calculate their own arithmetic of entitlements and follow the path pursued last week by Dermot Ahern, Tom Kitt and Sean Ardagh.

The potential casualty list looks dismal and daunting. There is no prospect whatsoever of retaining a majority of seats in any three or five seat constituency. This means instant losses in: Carlow/Kilkenny, Cavan/ Monaghan, Cork North West, Donegal North East, Dublin North West, Kildare South, Laois/ Offaly, (old) Limerick West, Meath East, Meath West, Sligo North/ Leitrim and Tipperary South. These dozen immediate losses are supplemented by vulnerability in four seat constituencies. In order to hold two out of four of the incumbent TDs, FF must exceed 30% of the vote.

This improbability will yield further victims in: Clare, Cork East, Cork North Central, Dublin Central, Dublin North, Dublin South West, Dun Laoghaire, Galway East, Kildare North, Limerick City (previously Limerick East), Longford /Westmeath and Waterford — a further dozen down. The likely haemorrhaging of seats cannot be contained to these slide rule eliminations. Within a national tally, for FF between 21%-24%, there will be pronounced regional variations. The pivotal cockpit of Dublin and the lack of a metropolitan leader could deliver further damage. A calamity in the capital was experienced when Eoin Ryan lost FF’s MEP Dublin seat. A single digit poll rating implies no seat is safe. In this line of hazard are Dublin Central, Dublin North Central, Dublin East, Dublin South East and even Dun Laoghaire. A no seat scenario is also possible in Kerry North, Limerick West and Tipperary North. A two seat loss cannot be ruled out in Carlow/Kilkenny and Laois/ Offaly. The final FF tally can vary between 38 seats and 44.

This painful drama can be personalised. The officer corps of FF is directly in the line of fire. Potential big name casualties include either Barry Andrews or Mary Hanafin, Conor Lenihan, Martin Mansergh, Dick Roche, Batt O’Keeffe, Peter Power, John Moloney, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey and Tony Killeen. Former ministers in dire trouble are Frank Fahey, Jimmy Devins, Ned O’Keeffe or Michael Ahern, Noel Treacy or Michael Kitt, Mary O’Rourke, Sean Power, Mary Wallace and Máire Hoctor.

The Green party currently hold six seats. Figures indicate that the situation is perilous for Paul Gogarty, Mary White and Ciaran Cuffe. Senators Niall Ó Brollocháin and Dan Boyle face an irretrievable situation. Gormley looks a goner in Dublin South East on the basis of constituency polls. That just leaves Eamon Ryan and Trevor Sargent. Between them, they could hold one seat.

It depends how far the tide goes out on anti government sentiment and candidate dynamics. Local election results spell decimation. FF is in total disarray in Dublin South, unless Conor Lenihan switches from Dublin South West. An elusive victory for socialist Clare Daly could tip the balance in Dublin North. Either way, the Greens will not have critical mass to comprise any part of the next government.

When a gale force wind blows, prospective parachute big name candidates seek an opportunist’s bounce. Any surprise entrants to the field are more likely to stand for opposition parties than as governmental martyrs. Key election preparations seem to be much more advanced for opposition parties. Almost all candidate selection is complete for Fine Gael and Labour in the 43 constituencies, whereas conventions are only under way for FF.

The cream of the crop of local election victors also gives the opposition additional impetus. FF lost over a hundred seats on local councils in June 2008. Key FF election gurus PJ Mara and Colin Hunt, who masterminded the previous success, have gone to pastures new. The much predicted “Meltdown Manor” last time out failed to materialise. Little wonder that Brian Lenihan, Micheál Martin and Mary Hanafin quickly concluded if Cowen wants to captain the Titanic, he can have it. The bailout was the ultimate iceberg. Life rafts are in short supply.

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