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27 February 1997 Edition

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Power politics - Leinster House `97

Neil Forde casts an eye over the election prospects of the Leinster House parties
In the coming months millions of pounds will be spent in an advertising and canvassing frenzy for a political horse race culminating in elections to the 166 seats of Leinster House. But there is uneasiness among the Leinster House parties. Where is their usual zest and relish for an election?

There are a range of reasons for the unusual reticence. Chief among these is the shadow of unanswered questions from the Ben Dunne-Lowry saga. They know that despite their best efforts public confidence in them is at an all-time low.


The least reticent party seems to be the Progressive Democrats. Mary Harney with chief hound Michael McDowell are straining at the leash for an election, convinced that they will increase their seat share and return to cabinet. They are the only party in the big six who have not been in government in the current Leinster House session. However, the battering they took in Munster in the 1994 EU elections when renegade Pat Cox took the party MEP seat has not been faced up to and the party could take more losses.

Democratic Left seemed to be doing well in opposition when they won two consecutive by-elections. However, they have been the poor relation in the rainbow coalition and the De Rossa/Sunday Independent libel case can hardly be impressing the DL vote base.

Fianna Fáil have publicly resigned themselves to not winning an overall majority and will be instead back in coalition. However, the last two ``temporary little arrangements'' have ended with the resignation of the party leader.

Fine Gael are in serious difficulties. John Bruton has spent the first weeks of this year perpetually counting off what he sees are the achievements of his government. These include low inflation, tax cuts, falling unemployment, record job creation. The impact on the voters has been negligible and Fine Gael could lose seats.

Labour though are set to be the biggest losers. Nobody believes they will hold the 32 seats won in 1992. Dick Spring knows how bad things can get. He won't have forgotten his narrow margin victory by four votes in 1987 in North Kerry as Labour was decimated nationally. Dick and fellow Labour TDs will comfort themselves with their ample ministerial pensions.
The only conclusion you can draw is that never has there been such a clear need for an alternative to the current Leinster House political output. Will the electorate be able to take the leap of faith?


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