Could European abortion ruling be Fianna Fáil’s salvation?

Fianna Fáil’s election worries, starkly laid out in a record low of 17 percent in an opinion poll published by the Ipsos MRBI/Irish Times, could be eased by an ally from an unlikely source — the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The party fell seven percent in the poll yesterday, mirroring a similar fall in a poll conducted by Red C for the Irish Sun some weeks ago, which gave them just 13 percent support.

But the ECHR judgement, which criticised the Irish government’s failure to bring in legislation to clarify the availability of abortion in the 18 years since the “X case judgement” in 1992, could give the governing party an issue on which it can win at the polls.

Abortion has long been the issue no party wanted to address in Ireland, so divisive have the debates been, but as Brian Cowen considers the prospect of an electoral wipeout the issue could provide a rallying call for conservative voters, especially in rural areas.

The party will still almost certainly find itself on the opposition benches after the election, due sometime in the Spring, but with more seats than would otherwise be the case.

Fine Gael, the other large conservative party, is as opposed to abortion legislation as Fianna Fáil (and as reluctant to tackle the subject when in power) but the Soldiers of Destiny could run a successful campaign based on the prospect of Fine Gael bowing to pressure from liberal reformers in their Labour coalition partners.

It might not play well in Dublin, but in conservative rural areas, the prospect of “Ivana Bacik, Minister for Justice” could persuade voters who have abandoned the party as the recession hit to return again.

Brian Lenihan has suffered badly from the recent arrival of the IMF and introducing the harshest budget in the history of the State, slumping 14 percent.

Micheál Martin, safe in the uncontroversial post of minister for foreign affairs, has been able to avoid most of the blame for the economic measures, and is now the front-runner to take over the party leadership from Brian Cowen, according to the poll.

Martin, at 28 percent, is now ahead of Lenihan (25 percent) as the electorate’s choice to lead Fianna Fáil, with Mary Hanafin at 12 percent a distant third.