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Thursday 17 August 2017

Losers all round as voters now turned off all major parties

Irish politics has entered a state of total confusion. This is the only safe conclusion you can draw from the weekend's two opinion polls, which made grim reading for all four major Dail parties.

In less than 18 months' time, the electorate will have to either re-elect Enda Kenny's Government or choose a new one - but right now we seem to be totally underwhelmed by any of the options on offer.

Fine Gael and Labour have received no boost at all from Michael Noonan's giveaway budget, presumably due to the Irish Water fiasco swirling around their heads.

Sinn Fein are leaking support over Gerry Adams's role in the fallout from the Mairia Cahill sex abuse scandal.

Fianna Fail remain stuck inside a painful identity crisis, allowing independents and smaller parties to streak ahead with anything up to 28pc of the vote.

What does all this mean for the future?

For a start, it suggests that the recent shock by-election results in Dublin South West and Roscommon-South Leitrim were not just a couple of flashes in the pan.

The days when most Irish people blindly voted the same way as their parents are well and truly over, partly because they feel the establishment parties have let them down so badly.

In fact, soon there may not even be much of an establishment to kick against. If yesterday's opinion polls were repeated at the 2016 General Election, we would end up with the most fragmented and chaotic Dail in Irish history.

MIXTURE

A dolly mixture group of independents could hold the balance of power - and as last week's disgraceful scenes showed, they cannot even agree over whose turn it is to speak.

In theory, this should represent a golden opportunity for someone who can form a new party and sweep the Irish electorate off its feet.

Shane Ross is reportedly trying to form an alliance of independent TDs, while Lucinda Creighton keeps dropping coy hints every time she appears on the airwaves.

After so many false dawns, most weary and disillusioned voters probably feel that they will believe it when they see it.

For now, the major parties have much more immediate problems to worry about.

Irish politics has become gripped by two completely different controversies, the Irish Water debacle and Sinn Fein's role in allegedly covering up sex abuse cases.

Both have the potential to drag on for weeks, months or even years - which means that both could have a major impact the next time we go to the polls.

On Irish Water, the Government is clearly in retreat mode. Despite the recent rumours that CEO John Tierney might be pushed overboard, ministers have apparently decided that this would do little or nothing to quell the public's anger.

Instead, they are openly discussing much more drastic options, such as only introducing a flat charge for the first couple of years so that people can get used to the idea.

This, however, is real finger-in-the-dyke stuff.

The bottom line remains that Enda Kenny has budgeted for a huge chunk of change from water charges and an increasing number of households are determined not to hand it over.

If a mass boycott materialises, there is no evidence that the Taoiseach has any Plan B.

Sinn Fein also have good reason to feel nervous these days. With the party still rattled by Mairia Cahill's explosive revelations, the big question now is whether or not other victims of IRA sex abuse will come forward and tell their stories.

In particular, Gerry Adams is coming under intense pressure to reveal what he knows about the Provo paedos who were reportedly smuggled over the border and might have committed more horrendous crimes.

He is, after all, the Pope of the republican movement - if only because his followers keep insisting that the man is infallible.

DAMAGE

Yesterday's polls showed that the Cahill case has certainly inflicted some damage on Sinn Fein, with the party falling three points to 20pc in one survey and Adams' personal rating collapsing by seven points to 40pc in another.

However, the failure of any other party to capitalise proves once again that the old political rules no longer apply.

Labour's 'Burton bounce' now looks more like a dead cat bounce - while Fianna Fail's recovery has turned out to be more short-lived than Roy Keane's beard.

Irish voters are looking at the Dail parties and declaring, "A plague on all your houses".

This can only mean that very soon one or more of those houses is going to collapse.

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