The coalition government has been accused of resorting to a campaign of scare tactics and media manipulation as it faces being ousted when votes are counted next weekend.
Despite two rancorous leadership debates and the aggressive interventions of the mainstream media, there has been little change in the strengths of the major parties. However, a leaked poll this weekend appears to show a collapse in support for the Labour Party, halved from 8% to 4%. Bookmakers are now placing short odds on a return to power of their coalition partners, Fine Gael, but only in the once unimaginable coalition with their former civil-war foes, Fianna Fail, the party chiefly held responsible for Ireland’s economic collapse in 2008.
Poll figures for Sinn Fein have moved slightly up and down, but this weekend they still remain almost twice where they were in 2011.
There has also been a steady increase in support for Independents and other smaller parties. The Social Democrats, Renua, the Greens are all on 3%, and support for other independents remains very high at 15%.
The most notable advance has been by People Before Profit/Anti-Austerity Alliance, which is now polling higher than the Labour Party at 5%. It is the first time in a national poll that an expressly socialist party has surpassed Labour.
At 26%, Fine Gael is now a full 10 points shy on the vote it took in 2011 and they are a long way shy of their desired target of 60 seats. At that last election, Fine Gael and Labour took power with 113 seats, but their total this time out is likely to be less than half that, with some analysts putting Fine Gael around 50 seats and Labour on less than five. A majority in Leinster House requires 79 seats.
The election campaign has come to be dominated by Fine Gael’s advisors, reportedly hired at considerable expense from Tory leader David Cameron’s successful campaign.
Their message has been a repetitive and increasingly negative one, and based on instilling fear of Sinn Fein and the left-wing candidates. A Fine Gael strategist, quoted in the Sunday Business Post said the party was “going to scare the **** out of voters for the last ten days”.
After attempting to use the ‘Slab’ Murphy tax case to focus on Sinn Fein ‘criminality’ and its policy to reform the non-jury Special Criminal Court, the Fine Gael-supported media has now turned on Gerry Adams to instil a fear of Sinn Fein’s economic policies.
The Independent News and Media group has bombarded the public with terrifying headlines such as: “How Adams will hit your pension”; and “We’ll end up like Greece if SF, motley crew take power”.
Meanwhile, RTE News refused to air interviews with Mr Adams or cover Sinn Fein’s press conferences. Party organisers says the situation is so bizarre that RTE even binned election manifesto questions by its own reporter at a Sinn Fein press conference in favour of a question from the Irish Independent.
After RTE relented, Mr Adams was subjected to a bizarre radio attack by a passive-aggressive interviewer, Sean O’Rourke, who disingenuously confused the party’s proposal for an additional (marginal) tax rate of 7% on incomes over 100,000 euro, with a net rate of 7%.
And as a guest on the Late Late show, Ireland’s most watched television show, crime writer Paul Williams declared that Sinn Fein are supported by “drug dealers, killers, kidnappers and terrorists”. An English body language expert also claimed Adams pointed his finger like a gun.
In another bizarre incident, Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was filmed being confronted in the street by someone described in the mainstream media as a “small businessman”. A well-dressed man was captured on camera angrily denouncing Ms McDonald over the party’s tax proposals and its plot to “kill pensions”. It later emerged he was Fergus Crawford (pictured), a wealthy banker.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness said “Fine Gael might be into the politics of fear, we are for the politics of hope. Next Friday, the people of this state have the opportunity to change it for the better, and Sinn Fein will be part of that change.”
He said for the first time people have the opportunity to have Sinn Fein lead governments north and south.
“Governments that will stand up for equality. Governments that will deliver a fair recovery. Governments that will act in the national interest. Government with a plan for unity and reconciliation.
“We have the opportunity to lead governments north and south and promote unity and equality. To lead governments North and South that stands up for you and the national interest.
“The electorate now has the choice. Do they stick with the parties of boom, bust and broken promises or seize this moment in time, to elect a progressive republican government?”