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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Voters are split, with FG in danger of losing both

Maybe we should have two general elections in 2016. That way we could choose two different governments, one for Dublin and one for the Republic's other 25 counties.

That's because a new opinion poll has confirmed that voters in the capital are heading in a very different direction to their country cousins.

The figures tell their own story. If the election was held tomorrow, an incredible 53pc of Dublin voters would opt for what might be loosely described as anti-establishment candidates - Sinn Fein, socialist groups and a whole array of colourful independents.

In all other regions, support for the traditional governing parties of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour is holding up comparatively well.

extremes

Today's two Dail by-elections are likely to prove the point. Dublin South West is widely seen as a two-horse race between Sinn Fein and the Socialist Party, with everyone else trailing in their wake.

In Roscommon-South Leitrim, however, Fianna Fail look set to win and prove that they still have a reasonably strong base in rural Ireland.

Why such contrasting trends in a relatively small country? The answer may be that Dublin is a place of extremes that feels the impact of economic changes more dramatically than anywhere else.

It shone most brightly during the Celtic Tiger years and has been hurt most grievously by the recession - leaving many voters ready to try a completely new political alternative.

Concrete examples are not exactly hard to find. As even some government TDs have complained, the property tax is primarily a levy on Dublin where house prices tend to be far more expensive.

At the same time, vital infrastructure projects such as Metro North have been repeatedly delayed and it is Dubliners who have to suffer.

The capital is home to Ireland's richest people, but also contains the country's worst unemployment black spots.

Our drugs and homelessness problems are reaching frightening levels, particularly in some parts of the inner city where Love/Hate must look like a documentary.

When you add all these problems together, it is little wonder that Dubliners are fed up with the political status quo. Right now, it is Sinn Fein who seem to be most successfully surfing this wave of public anger.

According to an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll yesterday, the Shinners have become Dublin's most popular party with 26pc support - and that figure rises to an amazing 39pc with voters who are officially classified as working-class.

In other words, last May's local and European election results were not just a flash in the pan.

Of course, a Dublin-rural divide in itself is nothing new. We have seen it in various referendums on divorce and abortion over the years, where the capital shows itself to be full of what one conservative campaigner memorably dismissed as "wife-swapping sodomites".

Now that gulf in social attitudes is having an impact on party politics too, which will make future elections even harder to predict.

The Government can comfort itself with one thought. Dublin's radical left-wing vote may be growing, but it is still hopelessly divided between the Socialist Party, People Before Profit, United Left and a host of other outfits too obscure to mention.

protest

While these organisations are all capable of whipping up an impressive protest march, they are chronically unable to unite under a common banner - which makes it easy for their mainstream opponents to divide and conquer.

At the Euro elections in Dublin, for example, the virtually identical Socialist Party and People Before Profit insisted on running separate candidates. As a result, their vote split down the middle and the Socialist MEP Paul Murphy lost his seat.

Sadly, both parties seem to be slow learners - as they are in danger of repeating exactly the same mistake in Dublin South West tomorrow.

For Enda Kenny's coalition, however, this poll should still be a major wake-up call.

In political terms, Ireland is fast becoming two countries. The Government must get its act together or end up losing both of them.

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