As a safeguard measure, it worked up to a point. A substantial body of voters, feeling absolutely betrayed by the party they elected to protect them from Fine Gael, only to see Labour protect Fine Gael instead, in a rage ripped the condom to shreds. Fine Gael, while hurt, sustained nothing like the drubbing Labour took. “We got 19 per cent of the votes and 80 per cent of the blame, they complain.”
Exactly as Fine Gael planned it to be. Hence its silent motto Practice safe tax, Wear a Labour condom.
For what it did to those it promised to protect but instead shafted, it was heartening to see Labour get the wallop it deserved. Just a pity Fine Gael was not taken down a peg or two more as well. It still looks certain to be the main party albeit with seriously clipped wings.
With about 10 seats left to be decided the election will primarily be remembered as heralding the resurrection of Fianna Fail. This society's political culture augured well for a comeback being on the cards for the party. Yet opinion polls were never favourable to it and invariably had Sinn Fein breathing down its neck and, on a bad day, pulling ahead of the Soldiers of Destiny.
In a bid to put clear blue sea between it and the rest Sinn Fein has lumped Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail in the austerity camp, while seeking to conceal its own complicity in the austerity “attacks on working people by the Tory Government and by the Stormont Executive.”
The outcome of the popular vote has to amount to a catastrophic failure on Sinn Fein's part to get its analysis across. Less than fourteen per cent of the electorate had sufficient confidence in it to give it a first preference. Worse, in response to the austerity parties the electorate gave the bulk of its anti-government vote to what Sinn Fein claims is another austerity party. Brendan Morley would appear to have called it right:
Sinn Fein, naturally, has already proclaimed its performance in this election as a great achievement for the party. In fact, it is anything but. Privately, they will be sorely disappointed with a result that is at the bottom of the scale of what was achievable this time around.
Thus, the second big story of the election: how underwhelming and underachieving the Sinn Fein performance actually was. Having anticipated the party to do much better I was both pleased and surprised that it failed to. It's leadership emulates Labour, believing in nothing other than office. The party will of course use the forward momentum it attained to mask the serious strategic failure. If ever there was a time to displace Fianna Fail it was now. The moment has passed. In the symbolically important year that is in it “Sinn Fein will not be in power on both sides of the Border for the 100th anniversary of the Rising”.
How a government that can politically manage a strategic state is pulled together out of the chaotic conundrum the electorate has bestowed on its elected representatives remains to be seen.
One possibility, remote albeit because Fine Gael probably retains some principles, is a Fine Gael-Sinn Fein coalition with a few Independents to make up the difference. Although the newly elected Sinn Fein TD, Eoin O’Broin, has moved quite forcefully to rule that out, there is a sense that he suspects that his party leader would jump into such an arrangement at the drop of a hat and has moved to cut it off at the pass.
A coalition government of blue shirts and green shirts would be no more difficult for Sinn Fein than its participation in the North's austerity executive alongside the DUP. It does however bring back memories of what Reginald Maudling said when he ordered a drink on the plane after visiting Belfast: "For God's sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country.”