TALK of the next general election may well be premature, but already party leaders and strategists are rolling up their sleeves and identifying the battle lines that will emerge.
While the fight may not be brought to voters for another 18 months, many are already eyeing up those ballot boxes.
No political blitzkrieg or major pitches to the electorate are expected until next year at the least. But leading political figures are already doing the math, looking at potential seat numbers and above all, testing the policies that may appeal most to weary voters trying to climb out of the recession.
Fianna Fáil hope to at least, double their Dáil seat numbers to 40, party leader Micheál Martin said in an interview with the Irish Examiner.
But it’s early days and targeting five or six key areas for voters is the first priority.
“Our target is obviously to do well in the next general election, both on the personnel front but the policy front too.
“We’ve got to pull that together into five or six key point areas. The kind of areas are health, education, agri-food rural Ireland, the macro economic picture and the whole taxation structure and dealing with a raft of new charges on board and integrating that with your income taxes,” he said.
Fianna Fáil hoped to at least double their seat numbers at the next general election, he said, but this could be “tough”.
Some regions in the local elections had seen a huge return in support for the party, including in Donegal where it took 30% of the votes, he explained.
“There’s renewed vigour, hope and a platform there now after the locals. Dublin still remains a challenge for us. But we’re changing tack in how we approach the Dublin organisation.”
A party strategy group is looking at who will run where when the next general election is called. A director of elections, outside of the parliamentary party, will also be appointed in the autumn
“It’s with a view to ruthlessly looking at the constituencies selecting candidates early, putting the full resources of the party behind them. In some constituencies, it will be a long haul.”
Parts of Dublin also saw returned support, particularly in Clontarf, and the party took nine of the 63 seats in all the city areas in the locals. Mr Martin hopes this will give them a platform to return TDs at next general election.
Fianna Fáil also hope to return six TDs, up from four, in Cork’s constituencies. This will include targeting second seats in Cork East and Cork North West.
Promises to adjust the property tax for the vulnerable are on the cards, but Fianna Fáil also has the new water taxes — a levy which kicks in for households next month — in its sights.
“We will be fundamentally reviewing the model that this government has brought in. The Government have been disingenuous here.
“People before long will be facing bills for €400 or €500 and going onwards. There’s no attempt to put a break on that.”
Mr Martin said a model with more state investment would lessen costs for consumers.
“I think what’s now been put in place is something that’s going to cause continuous disputes and rows.
“This will cause agitation. Once the bills start hitting, just wait for it.
“The scale of what’s being asked will surprise people. Many people will find that the bill be far more significant than the Taoiseach has suggested.”
The Government has said the average water bill will be just under €240 a year. However, this is factored up until 2016 with amounts put in by the exchequer into water costs.
It remains to be seen if the same supplement would apply after that period or whether bills could in fact go up if not.
Mr Martin added: “People don’t mind paying a contribution but after 2016 will be paying the full cost, not just the current amount but for future infrastructure investment as well.”
A large portion of the electorate are changing their voting patterns, Mr Martin concedes, which makes it difficult to predict where loyalties or political preferences are. He said there was “increasing volatility” among voters, and still a lot of anger over certain issues.
“It’s very uncertain in that regard. We may be looking at more European models of fragmentation where parties could be ending up with 25% or 26% of the vote across the board. And you don’t have the same sort of homogeneous two and half party system that we had.
“The mood out there is angry. Labour and Fine Gael underestimated the degree of anger coming into the locale elections because of the broken promises, the discretionary medical cards, the justice portfolio and how that was handled.”