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Monday 18 December 2017

Enda vs Adams is the big battle for prize of Easter 2016

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny
*Lynch*

Leo Varadkar saw it coming. As soon as the votes were counted in last May's local and European elections, the then Transport Minister predicted that Irish politics was about to become a straight fight between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein.

A dramatic new opinion poll has shown he was absolutely right, which means that the big choice in next year's general election is finally starting to become clear.

The figures tell their own story. In yesterday's Sunday Independent/Millward Brown survey, the big losers were Independents who saw their support crash by nine points to 23pc.

Almost all of this transferred to either Fine Gael (25pc, up three) or Sinn Fein (26pc, up five), with Fianna Fail (19pc, no change) and Labour (6pc, up one) going nowhere by comparison.

In other words, Enda Kenny (inset) and Gerry Adams have won their qualifying heats. They now go on to face each other in the final, which is most likely to take place in April 2016.

prize

The result of this poll will determine a glittering prize - who gets to sit in the Taoiseach's office on the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

Why the sudden shift? One plausible explanation is that as the election looms into view, people are less interested in simply registering a protest vote or wasting it on a small party.

Instead, they are starting to focus on who might actually be able to lead a government - and right now Fine Gael and Sinn Fein are the options they're favouring.

This is obviously terrible news for everyone else. The hard Left must be privately kicking themselves - it appears that the recent publicity from some anti-water charge protests has not done them any favours.

Fianna Fail are starting to resemble a clapped-out old banger that will not start in the mornings, while Labour now have to accept that avoiding wipe-out would be a huge achievement in itself.

The new poll also looks ominous for Lucinda Creighton and Shane Ross, who are both planning to launch new political forces in the near future. Support for this idea has been steadily dropping for months and now stands at just 38pc.

Of course, all bets will be off if Lucinda or Shane manages to unveil something exciting - but it appears that the odds are stacked against them.

If the election does come down to a Kenny versus Adams struggle, at least nobody can claim there is no difference between them. Fine Gael will be the establishment choice, arguing that austerity was painful but necessary and is finally starting to pay dividends.

countdown

Sinn Fein would be a leap into the unknown by comparison, similar to what the Greeks did by electing Syriza - which is why events in Athens are likely to have a major impact on our own political debate.

Some previous Irish general elections might have been most kindly described as 50 Shades of Grey. A blue-green clash may not be particularly sexy either, but it should at least offer us a choice of two radically different visions for Ireland's future.

It will certainly be an improvement over our old Civil War politics, which the voters finally ditched four years ago - and have apparently decided to bury for good.

The countdown continues.

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