December 6: Election battle lines drawn in Limerick

It seems like only yesterday that Fianna Fail were unceremoniously dumped out of office, losing Dail seats in Limerick and around the country.

It seems like only yesterday that Fianna Fail were unceremoniously dumped out of office, losing Dail seats in Limerick and around the country.

Now the party has fired the starting gun on the next general election campaign by announcing a selection convention for Limerick this side of Christmas.

Cllr Eddie Ryan - who denies he is in the ABC (Anyone But Collins) camp - would like to see more than one candidate in the county. And it would have been unthinkable in the past that Fianna Fail would have a single candidate in a constituency where they have traditionally held two seats.

But times have changed and perhaps the party elders see the local election results as a fundamental realignment of political loyalties rather than a one-off “wallop” from an austerity-weary electorate.

Were an election to be held tomorrow, Sinn Fein would win a seat in the city and also threaten to win one in the county.

That is despite the best efforts of the other parties to make political capital out of the Mairia Cahill / IRA paedophilia scandal - and Gerry Adams’ bungling of the controversy.

Mary Lou MacDonald’s allegations - under Dail privilege - that former ministers including Des O’Malley and Gerry Collins had offshore bank accounts, claims emphatically denied by both Limerick men, must also be viewed in the context of a looming electoral battle where Sinn Fein will hope to win support from all three of the traditionally larger parties.

Minister Michael Noonan - who along with Jan O’Sullivan continues to insist he will be a candidate - this week seemed to pour cold water on any suggestion there will be a general election early in 2015.

Fine Gael, and Minister Noonan in particular, have every reason to wait until after the next budget to go to the country. Controversy over water charges may have dampened down by then, it is calculated, while another package of modest tax reductions can only help re-election prospects.

Still, even a customer as cool as Noonan could not resist putting out a statement rubbishing Sinn Fein’s economic policy this week. It’s a line we can expect to hear more of over the next 12 months as the campaign heats up.