- Title: IRELAND: Pressing the flesh in Ireland - leaders campaign hard on weary public
- Date: 23rd February 2011
- Summary: MORE OF LOSCHER AT HIS DESK LOOKING AT GRAPHS ON HIS COMPUTER CLOSE OF GRAPHS ON COMPUTER SCREEN
- Embargoed: 10th March 2011 12:00
- Location: Ireland, Ireland
- Country: Ireland
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAE6MM8IKOYQ2T6LEEPU4YZDJLZ
- Story Text: Leaders of Ireland's main political parties are hitting the streets to press the flesh in the final few days before the general election sparked by the banking and economic crisis. Outgoing Fianna Fail look set to take a kicking from a weary electorate.
Fine Gael's Enda Kenny bounds around with the air of a man who can almost certainly count on being Ireland's next prime minister. He's one of the few beneficiaries of Ireland's spectacular economic and banking collapse, which resulted in an unpopular international bailout and sparked the collapse of the outgoing Fianna Fail government.
On Tuesday (February 22) Kenny surrounded himself with young people and pledged to put job creation at the heart of his policies.
"Yes the jobs crisis is damaging families and communities across this country. But it is devastating for young people. The banks committed that national crime. Instead of taking us to the future, the young generation is taking national punishment."
Unemployment is rising in Ireland, it's forecast to be over 13 percent this year and prospects for jobs are slim. 84 percent of Irelands unemployed are under the age of 35 years.
Many young people are once again leaving Ireland in search of jobs abroad.
The wreckage of a collapsed housing market, anger at developers and banks who boomed during an economy built on shifting sands and anger at the country's toughest austerity budget passed just before parliament was dissolved is dominating this election campaign.
Fine Gael are well ahead in the polls, but most likely won't get an outright majority. That hasn't been seen in Ireland since 1977.
Pollsters and analysts believe a likely option is for Fine Gael to form a large majority coalition with the Labour party led by Eamon Gilmore.
He battled through the crowds on Dublin's Grafton Street to try to persuade a largely disillusioned public to vote on Friday (February 25).
"We should not punish the children of the country for the mistakes that were made by the banks," he told one woman out with her young grandchildren.
She retorted "So do you expect the grannies to be punished," leaving Gilmore struggling to explain how his party would clean up the financial difficulties the country's been left in.
The party likely to suffer heavily in Friday's poll is outgoing Fianna Fail - once Europe's strongest political party. Under the leadership of former prime minister Brian Cowen the party is a shadow of its former self. New leader Michael Martin is sending out the message that he will change the way politics is done.
"People need hope for the future, people need to be reassured through the credibility and substance of the policy programmes of parties that we will get back on the road to sustainable economic recovery and I believe we offer that credible and detailed plan," he told reporters.
Latest opinion polls point to Fine Gael extending its lead but falling short of an outright majority. The Sunday Business poll put Fine Gael on 39 percent and Labour down 3 points to 17 percent.
Pollster from Ipsos-MRBI, Damian Loscher said Labour lost it's initial strong bounce it enjoyed when the public was first aware of the economic crisis but lost it when they realised just how serious it was.
"Labour have come off that peak and the voters have moved towards Fine Gael. I think as the IMF-EU bailout came home to roost and people fully understood the difficulties that we are in, they started looking for a more serious and sensible and sober party, a party that they saw maybe had more traditional economic values," he said.
Politics professor at Trinity university, Michael Marsh, said other Eurozone countries will be watching closely to what happens to Ireland's leaders blamed for the economic collapse.
"This election will probably concern governing parties everywhere in Europe, because it will show what can happen to you if you really get it wrong. A party with close to an overall majority, with 80 seats virtually will probably be reduced to about 20 seats this time, that's a severe kicking by any standards. One might say it shows democracy works, you know, if you mess up you get booted out," he said.
Polls open at 0700gmt on Friday, with counting not taking place until Saturday. Independent candidates could do well as a weary public turn away from mainstream parties.
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