The political system here is still reeling after the local and European elections two weeks ago which saw the collapse of the Labour Party, a drubbing for Fine Gael, a significant recovery for Fianna Fail, a much-hyped "breakthrough" for Sinn Fein and the election of a very big and very mixed bag of independents.
Since then the Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has resigned. And the parties are still trying to work out what it all might mean in two years time when we have the vote that really matters, the next general election for the Dail (Parliament).
The strong performance by Sinn Fein, particularly in the European elections, has led to a wildly optimistic reaction from some commentators in the U.S. One headline talked about Sinn Fein's big leap forward. Another suggested that we should not rule out Gerry Adams as the next taoiseach (prime minister)!
This is nonsense, of course. Yes, Sinn Fein got a few Euro seats thanks to some attractive candidates and the country-wide protest vote against austerity.
But as we pointed out here last week, the best indicator for what will happen in the next Dail election in 2016 is the local election vote. Sinn Fein got 15 percent of that, which was up from the 11 percent they got in the general election in 2011.
It was a good performance, but it has to be viewed in proportion (independents got 28 percent, Fianna Fail got 25 percent, Fine Gael got 24 percent and Labour got seven percent).
So although Sinn Fein did well, it's a long way from breaking the mold of Irish politics. That did not stop various unlikely scenarios being put forward by Sinn Fein admirers.
One was that in the next Dail election the combined opposition vote might exceed that of the two main parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, and on that basis Adams might be the next taoiseach.
The problem with that analysis is that many of the independents/others (who got 28 percent of the vote) are center or right of center and could never support either Adams or the leftist economic policies of Sinn Fein. Indeed many of them are refugees from the main parties.
There is also the fact that many of the protest votes across the nation are likely to return to the main parties in the Dail election. We know from previous elections that many people who vote in protest against the government of the day in the local and European elections (at the midway point of the Dail term) are much more careful about how they vote in general elections. So the main parties are likely to get a good deal of their "lost" votes back, particularly if the economy continues its slow recovery.
Even so, a lecturer in politics in one of the universities here has done an analysis of the voting results, and based on the figures says that Sinn Fein could win up to 30 seats in the next Dail election.
Of course, "up to" can mean anything. The fact is, however, that even with 20 or 30 seats in the Dail Adams' dream of being in government north and south of the Border in 2016, the centenary of the 1916 Rising, is likely to remain just that – a dream.
Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are dead set against linking up with Sinn Fein for the recent historical reasons we all know about, but also because of the socialist style policies favored by the Shinners.
Sinn Fein's cannibalization of the SDLP vote in the north is never going to be repeated in the south with a takeover of the Fianna Fail vote. The historical momentum just is not there.
In fact, some dreamers in Fianna Fail say that the reverse is more likely and that this scenario would eventually lead to the return of Sinn Fein stars like Mary Lou McDonald to the party she left – Fianna Fail.
The vision of a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein coalition is a neat idea, unifying the Republican tradition in the south. But if the remarkable recovery in the Fianna Fail vote continues, they will be slow to roll out a coalition welcome mat for the Shinners.
Fine Gael, of course, are even more vehemently opposed to any arrangement with the Shinners. If the Fine Gael vote fails to recover in the next year or two, then the logical combination – and one many people here would love to see happen – would be a coalition government between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.
That would put an end to the Civil War division, the only thing that divides the two main parties these days since they agree roughly on most economic and social policies. Finally ending the historical anachronism would be a great way to mark the 1916 Centenary and would be celebrated by the nation as a sign of a genuine new beginning.
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