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Irish General Election 2016: What will the hype bring?

Politicians ditched the suits over the last few weeks and instead opted for waders and wellingtons. Immersing themselves into the chaos and destruction that the 2015 Winter floods brought might not ease the pain for the householders but an election is coming and visibility is power, apparently.

The 2011 election may still be fresh in the minds of some - Fianna Fáil’s long tenure at the forefront of Irish politics coming to a shattering end, replaced by the ‘new-hope’ Fine Gael-Labour coalition, but where exactly has this left those political parties and more importantly, where has it left us as a country?

It could be called today, tomorrow, or even next week, but a General Election is imminent. What is certain about this election though is the incredible uncertainty surrounding it. Facing into what many journalists are labelling a “historic election”, there is no guarantee for any party. Fine Gael are currently enjoying something of relatively healthy position in the polls thanks to continually highlighting their successes and refuting their failures while in government, a leaf straight out of the “How to run a Perfect Campaign” book. Whether this will translate to the polls come election, we will have to wait and see.

The Opposition

Fianna Fáil are used to being the face of Irish politics, so they have been in unknown territory for the past 5 years while playing the part of the Opposition in the Dail. The question now is can they build on the brutal result in 2011 without representation in any Dublin constituency and no elected female TD? In fact, what exactly is Fianna Fáil’s end game?

Damage to their reputation still hangs from 2011 but have Fine Gael done enough to convert past FF voters to become permanent FG voters? We don’t think so. This is where the reprieve for FF may lie and if they were to rise from their current 21 seats to over 30 that would be a hugely positive step in the right direction. Voters may be able to put the economic horrors of the crash behind them if FF can once again deliver like they did time and time again in the past. Some may find it ironic that the current government implemented a strategy that was identical to FF & the Green's plan for economic recovery, another arrow to attach to the party’s ever expanding bow.

The word Change is something that is being tossed around between political pundits and the media when we see #GE16 is trending online and yet the parties who want to bring change are the ones which have the most question marks over them. Sinn Féin flourished when FF were struggling in the polls but now the two seem to be on an even keel. Gerry Adams has faced these “legacy demons” over and over again and many feel they are overplayed, thus, why they expect to obtain near to 24 seats in the upcoming election (10 more than they currently have). Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty’s vocal input at Dail debates are a good reflection of the changing of the party's guard.

Former Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton will lead her newly founded party Renua into battle with just 18 candidates, how many will be victorious is anyone's guess. Many of these candidates have little to no political experience, but whether that is a pro or a con is not yet clear. They will use 2016 as a stepping stone to achieving their version of political reform regardless. The group that may do the biggest damage to a FG majority will more than likely be a core group of Independents along with the left-wing People before Profit/ Anti-Austerity Alliance combination.

The Labour Issue

As with any coalition government, the minority party is usually the one that comes out worst. Labour, unfortunately, have found themselves on the wrong side of the public mood over the past few years. While the country may be rejuvenating, and I use that word generously, Labour’s support is drying up. Promises they made were broken and now Labour find themselves grovelling at the feet of those to whom they made commitments - the less well off. Labour are now in a difficult position with only a few weeks left until the election, do they go on the offensive or continue the apologies. Instead of promising more, they should seek to remind the people about what they have accomplished while in government. Labour strongly backed the Same Sex Marriage Referendum and also continue to support the repeal of the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution on abortion. Labour need to mobilise these voters once again as they did when the Marriage Referendum took place. If it was done once, it can be repeated, but first they must take a stance, offence or defence.

If we had Nate Silver on staff, we might venture a guess on who will win what seats but unfortunately, even Nate Silver is no match for the unpredictability of political elections as he learned the hard way when his methods crashed and burned at the UK election in 2015. Prof Michael March’s analysis of a poll of polls for RTÉ’s The Week in Politics put Fianna Fail on 20% — barely ahead of Sinn Féin on 19%. Fine Gael is on 30%; Labour on 8%; and the great conundrum of all others on 37%. But these figures will not survive the test of an actual campaign and this can be quite unsettling for anyone with political loyalties in the coming weeks. Votes will be up for grabs until polling day and it will come down the courage of the electorate to vote for a change or vote how they did 5 years ago. Ultimately, everything and nothing has changed.

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