The smaller parties have been launching specific and focused policy proposals while selling a message of change and urging voters to dispense with the traditional politics of old.

But much of the focus of this General Election campaign has been on the battle between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

And that's because there has not been a General Election here for some time that was so closely contested between two parties. And that is focusing minds.

Paschal Donohoe said yesterday that he believes both parties are neck-and-neck

He accused Fianna Fáil of believing that this election is falling on their lap and that they are on their way back to government.

It is true there is a confidence in Fianna Fáil that we have not seen for some time.

Fine Gael, despite some self-inflicted damage, is feeling pretty relaxed at this point also.

Brexit - Fine Gael’s trump card- is not on the minds of voters in the way they had hoped it would. All parties are acknowledging that.

Health and housing are as predicted chief among voter concerns.

After criticism of Leo Varadkar for his response in relation to the serious injury of a homeless man in Dublin on Wednesday, the Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said there was not a policy of clearing up tents and said the incident was a "very terrible mistake".

The episode set a tone for the campaign and has left a bad feeling among the electorate, whom Mr Murphy acknowledged were shocked by it.

Another issue that has come to the fore is crime or law and order.

This is largely because of the news of the horrific murder of teenager Keane Mulready-Woods.

But as an election issue, it extends across the country. That is because it is emblematic of wider, pre-existing concerns among voters about crime, drug use, safety and anti-social behaviour.

Other issues emerging as important are childcare, insurance costs and the increase in the pension age to 67 and the need for certain retirees to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance when they retire.

The tone and nature of the campaign is relevant too. A Fine Gael video attacking Fianna Fáil for its lack of policies has backfired spectacularly after being derided as juvenile and not befitting a government party that already has serious issues to address. 

In the first weekend of the campaign, candidates and party leaders will be spending more time on the stump, locally, which is when parties get a better sense of the public mood and an assessment of where they stand.

The weekend is also likely to bring the first opinion polls of the campaign, which will no doubt give food for thought to all those looking for votes in three weeks' time.


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