Humdrum campaign puts centre-right in pole position for election

The latest polls in the Irish general election, to be held on 25 February, put the four main parties largely in the order they were in when the campaign opened, with Fine Gael likely to the biggest party in the Dail.

The campaign has so far generated much emotion but produced no major surprises, with increasingly confident predictions that a new government led by the centre-right will emerge.

Fine Gael has been edging ahead in the polls, with its leader, Enda Kenny, poised to become the next prime minister as its historic rival, Fianna Fail, braces itself for electoral humiliation.

Fine Gael is up three points to 38 per cent, followed by Labour at 20 per cent, Fianna Fail on 15 per cent and Sinn Fein on 10 per cent, in the latest polls published on Sunday.

The electorate clearly remains angry with Fianna Fail, blaming it for the country's dire economic position. There is also much worry among voters about the loss of jobs and a sharp decline in living standards.

Another poll in Dublin city puts Labour, at 31 per cent, marginally ahead of Fine Gael which has 29 per cent. Sinn Fein stands at 11 per cent in the capital, Fianna Fail at 10 per cent and Independents at 16 per cent.

On Monday a televised debate featuring party leaders produced no clear-cut winners, though the high level of interest in politics was illustrated by the fact that it attracted almost a million viewers. This was the highest rating of any programme in the country so far this year.

In previous events Mr Kenny has been accused of being shaky on complex financial matters, but this time he was judged to have held his own.

While he scores less well than his party in opinion polls, Fine Gael is judged to have a strong economic team including the former party leader Michael Noonan. It has always had a reputation for caution and financial rectitude.

With Fine Gael set to be the largest party, it is widely thought that it will require the support of Labour to form a government. Although the two parties are not natural allies, one being to the left and the other to the right, they have formed alliances in the past.

But if Fine Gael can maintain its momentum it might find it possible to form an administration with the support of a few independents. It is even conceivable it could form an administration on its own, though this is a rarity in Irish politics.

Either way, it has pledged itself to attempt to improve the financial bail-out extended to Ireland in December.

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