The return of Tweedledee?
The return of Tweedledee?

Fine Gael is likely to be in a position to form a new Dublin government next week as opinion polls show Sinn Fein, Labour and Fianna Fail now in the race for second place in Friday’s 26-County general election.

Following a heavy-spending and slick political campaign by Enda Kenny’s party, undecided voters appear to be plumping for the ‘Blueshirts’ to lead the State out of its deep economic crisis.

Fine Gael has clearly benefited most from the collapse of its traditional opponents, Fianna Fail, with which it shares a conservative and big-business agenda.

Nevertheless, Fine Gael’s advance in the polls has panicked the smaller Labour Party, who had often expressed the expectation that they would join them in a coalition government.

Amid the elevated political rhetoric, the immediate prospects for a radical realignment in Irish politics have dimmed.

However, support for Sinn Fein has consolidated following a dramatic rise late last year and the party can reasonably hope to double its representation in the Dublin parliament.

At the weekend, Enda Kenny was forced to denied his party is embroiled in a divisive row with Labour falling a fallout over a plethora of stealth taxes being planned by Fine Gael.

The taxes are intended to help ensure the cost of the banking bailout is paid for by all sectors of Irish society.

“I’m not having any row with the Labour Party – my comments and my conversations are with the Irish people – there’s something much more than bickering involved here – there’s a serious challenge for all our people, a serious challenge for our country,” Kenny said.

The Mayo man, whose television appearances have been carefully curtailed by his media handlers, also sought to assure those representing the unemployed that they had nothing to fear from cuts to welfare payments because it would “encourage them to get back to work”.

“The answer to social welfare is work and jobs and employment,” he said. “Many of those who I am meeting and who are on the Live Register are unemployed people who want to work.”

Labour’s justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte defended his party’s “attack advertisements” against Fine Gael in newspapers.

He said many people he met were “worried about the implication of a single-party Fine Gael government”, but that the arguments between the two would not prevent them forming a coalition

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, focussed on preventing a meltdown in his party’s grassroots, nevertheless said the country was witnessing a “widening chasm” between Fine Gael and Labour.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael’s communications spokesman Leo Varadkar has refused to say who attended a €150-a-head constituency fundraiser in a Dublin city centre restaurant this week amid a continuing controversy over the party’s own links to Ireland’s wealthy developers and bankers.

More than 100 people attended the private function in Town Bar Grill on Thursday, including leading figures from the business, banking and legal worlds, according to a number of those who attended. The attendance included prominent business people with Fianna Fáil links.

All of the governments formed since the foundation of the State have been dominated by one of these two civil-war era parties, so political lobbyists and big business interests have always maintained strong ties to both parties.

Following revelations over the ‘golden circle’ meetings and golf games attended by Taoiseach Brian Cowen with Anglo fraud suspect Sean Fitzpatrick, the issue of corruption remains a sore point.

Last week the incumbent Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, threatened a former coalition colleague with a law suit to stop being ‘defamed’ by him over his links to rogue banker Michael Fingleton.

And asked on Friday who attended the party fundraiser, Varadkar simply blanked the question.

“It is people who buy the tickets who come to the fundraiser,” he said. “I do not tell people who does or does not attend.”

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