It can’t be easy, facing into an election where the voters will decide whether they want to keep you in the corridors of power, cast you onto the opposition benches, or throw you out of Leinster House altogether.

The polls suggest that the Labour Party has a hard landing coming once the votes are cast, but from what I gathered at the weekend party conference, the party knows that it has a fight on its hands.

In the Mullingar Park Hotel, there was a palpable sense that the TDs and candidates wanted to be in and out of there as quickly as possible, and were itching to get knocking on doors in their constituencies.

Speaking to them and listening to the presentations in the conference hall, they know that they are fighting an uphill battle and they concede that Fine Gael will be the largest party in government once the votes are cast. But a number of them told me that they believe the question for the electorate is who they want to see in government with Fine Gael.

Analyst Gerard Howlin says that if they mess up during the election campaign, they could be looking at winning just seven or eight seats – it’s a long way from the 37 they got the last time out. If the wind blows their way, he says they could end up with something in the mid-teens, which might make going back into government a viable option. Minister Brendan Howlin and his colleagues are suggesting that their tally will be in the region of 20 seats, but that seems to be an optimistic hope rather than a realistic prospect.

Whatever happens, it’s a bizarre phenomenon when the smaller party of government gets the whipping in a general election for decisions that were taken jointly with more powerful colleagues. Just look at the British example, where the Liberal Democrats were cruelly punished for going into a Tory-led government. The end of that story led to an overall majority for the Conservatives, only time will tell whether they too will pay the price of their success. It does not bode well for the Labour here, but as seasoned political watchers know, anything can happen over the course of an election campaign.

We are in for an interesting few weeks.


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