Belfast Telegraph

Fianna Fail facing oblivion in Irish general election

Fears for the future, a yearning for stability and a determination to exact political vengeance for the country's catastrophic finances are among the emotions swirling around an Irish election campaign as voters go to the polls today.

They will certainly be bringing about regime change. Fianna Fail is about to be unceremoniously booted from power, its policies having forced the country into receivership. Taoiseach Brian Cowen is leaving politics, while many other senior Fianna Fail figures are not standing again.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin yesterday appealed to loyal supporters to come out and vote for the party in what he said was the “most important general election in a generation”.

The palpable anger against the Fianna Fail-led government — illustrated by a satisfaction rating in single digits — exists alongside great concern about the economic prospects of both the country and its citizens.

With Fine Gael firmly on track to replace Fianna Fail in power, leader Enda Kenny claimed the Irish people had been duped by the outgoing government.

“I want to ask the people of Ireland to turn their anger into action and vote with their power, vote with their pride, vote for our plan, the only plan that will get Ireland working,” he said yesterday.

Almost 3.2m voters will cast their ballots with 550 plus candidates running in 43 constituencies for 166 seats.

The prediction is that Fianna Fail faces meltdown and will go from more than 70 seats to perhaps two dozen, forfeiting its status as Ireland's centrally important political party to Fine Gael, which has built a reputation for financial rectitude and restraint.

There will be days of counting before it is known whether the party can govern alone or will require support. During the campaign it has advanced steadily but unspectacularly in the opinion polls. The 38% support it scored in recent polls means it will be close to an overall majority, but it may be a few seats short.

At one point last year the Irish Labour party — which has a feisty leader in Eamon Gilmore — looked capable of overtaking Fine Gael, but the party faded during campaigning. Nevertheless, its 20% support, combined with Fine Gael's 38%, would provide a solid bloc in the Irish parliament should the latter fail to achieve an overall majority. Labour has thus lowered its sights to becoming a junior coalition partner.

The two parties have combined to form governments in the past, but the fact that one leans to the left and the other to the right has often caused in-built tensions.

Sinn Fein, which stands to gain seats for its outspoken opposition to government cuts and the controversial bailout from the International Monetary Fund and Europe, claimed the party would put “real political backbone” into the Dail.

Party president Gerry Adams, who is standing in the border county of Louth, said: “At this crucial point in our country's history it is time for citizens to make a stand for a better way.

“The most effective way to do that is to come out tomorrow and to vote for Sinn Fein.”

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