A few months ago it actually seemed possible. In the middle of Garglegate and the attendant witch hunt, it was whispered and then said out loud- Eamon Gilmore could be Taoiseach.
Those sporting blue shirts under their canvassing macs now openly mock the notion, but for a brief, fleeting moment Ireland was on the cusp of becoming a modern democracy.
Instead of being defined by what side they took in the Civil War, parties would now nail their colours to more traditional masts of right and left.
But what began with a socialist bang has now gone out with a whimper, and Labour only have themselves to blame. Their decline in the polls is hardly down to the political skill and charisma of the likes of Enda Kenny and Mícheál Martin – they have none.
Labour’s ills are very much of their own making, and they were made at the very top. When Enda Kenny was bunkering down and staying out of the limelight, Gilmore and Joan Burton were turning on the righteous anger- and the Irish people immediately turned off.
Though wonderfully hospitable and generous neighbours, Irish people are not natural socialists. Eight hundred years of occupation means that a dislike of and contempt for government is inbuilt in our DNA, and voting for bigger government goes against their nature. For most Irish people, casting a vote for Labour is like political chemotherapy – it might get rid of the cancer, but it’s still not something to look forward to.
At this point in time, the Irish electorate don’t want righteous anger- they have enough of that themselves. What they want is leadership, not the pointless political posturing Labour pursued.
Burton’s bizarre performance on Vincent Browne when she attacked all round her gave birth to the Moan Burton tag, and simultaneously put paid to her ambition to be finance minister.
And as for Gilmore’s righteous anger, that is long gone and he is now reduced to begging the electorate for transfers to shoehorn Fine Gael into a coalition they do not want. The man who would be Taoiseach may now end up outside government altogether, splitting the leadership of the opposition with Gerry Adams as Míchael Martin looks on enviously from the back benches.
There will of course be no shame in that for Martin- he was given an impossible job, and having any TDs at all in the next Dáil wil be a triumph for him. Nor does he seem like the sort to be ashamed of anything anyway.
Not so for Gilmore and Burton, who will be looking wistfully across the chamber at the government benches and wondering what might have been if they had taken the age-old saying to heart- better to keep your mouth shut and have everyone think you’re an idiot than to open it and confirm their suspicions.