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Anxious wait for DUP over Republic's elections

(Brian Feeney, Irish News)

They wouldn't admit it but a lot of DUP apparatchiks will be tuning into RTE tomorrow night, but even more anxiously on Friday to watch how their partners in the north's administration are doing in the south.

As one DUP assembly member told BBC on Sunday, "we wouldn't like it" if Sinn Féin were in government in the Republic. You bet.

All week Fianna Fail ministers have been assuring voters they have no intention of going into government with Sinn Féin or running a government dependent on Sinn Féin.

They would say that, wouldn't they? They would because their opponents in Fine Gael and what is laughingly known as the 'Labour' party say that a vote for Fianna Fail is a vote for Sinn Féin in government.

They'd be far better saying a vote for Fianna Fail is a vote for Michael McDowell in government, surely a much more frightening prospect given his erratic record over the last five years.

The reason for all this finger-pointing is that the polls show a neck-and-neck race. With Fianna Fail on 41% they could get 73 or 74 seats. That still leaves them 10 short of the magic figure of 83 needed to govern.

Where will those 10 come from?

It's more likely, however, that they'll get 70-72 because with a lot of new constituencies the destination of several fifth seats is in doubt.

At the last election in 2002 the PDs were showing 2% in the polls but got 4% of the vote and eight seats. That looks very unlikely this time. Their party leader, McDowell, is the least popular of all leaders and the most divisive figure in Irish politics.

Even if the PDs did get eight seats though, on present showing eight wouldn't be enough to shore up Fianna Fail in government, so FF must look elsewhere.

Labour's Pat Rabbitte has categorically ruled out a coalition with FF – he would have to resign as party leader before Labour went into government with Bertie. The Labour party could split in such circumstances.

So we come back to Sinn Féin.

On 9 to 10% of the vote they should get 16 seats but they won't because people don't transfer to them. Compare Labour, which got 11% of the vote in 2002 but 21 seats.

Sinn Féin is looking at eight to 10 seats at most this time compared to their five in 2002, unless there's a dramatic softening among voters aged over 40.

Even so, eight to 10 would put them in prime position for a deal with Fianna Fail and it will not be lost on Fianna Fail party managers that polls now show half the electorate see no problem with SF in government.

SF think they're in with a chance and have set up a sub-committee to negotiate over the coming weekend.

They know that FF ministers can queue up to say they won't accept SF support in government but that deliberately avoids this simple point. The first item of business in the new Dail will be electing the taoiseach.

Fianna Fail can't stop Sinn Féin voting for Bertie Ahern as taoiseach. It's inconceivable that FF won't nominate Bertie and who else would SF vote for?

Those eight to 10 SF TDs would in effect shore up the government and could exert more leverage than if they were in a coalition.

However, the SF leadership has decided they are up for a coalition – 'ready for government' as Gerry Adams has said.

Word has it they would take education as a portfolio so their southern minister could sit across from Catriona Ruane to devise an all-Ireland education policy.

To paraphrase a well-known phrase, it's enough to make Gregory Campbell puke into his Frosties on Saturday morning.

They can say what they like before tomorrow's polling but when the last seat is filled, and it will go down to the last seat, Fianna Fail will do a deal with Oul' Nick to get back into government – otherwise they wouldn't be Fianna Fail.

Now do you think that oul' curmudgeon Paisley knew he was playing a part in Bertie's election campaign and if Fianna Fail makes a deal with Sinn Féin does Paisley realise the part he also played in creating the opportunity for Sinn Féin in the south?

May 24, 2007

This article appeared first in the May 23, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News