Today, the rival manifestos of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will be published

This, to borrow a phrase of political spin master extraordinaire, the late PJ Mara, is the real show time.

As well as the TV debates, manifesto launches are the big set piece of an election campaign and can sometimes dictate the next turn an election might take.

Parties move out of headquarters - where their daily press conferences are usually held - and bring a sense of occasion with a nice location.

A manifesto is essentially the party's plans for how they would run the country. It is their deal, if you like, with the electorate.

But do they really matter?

First there is the question of whether or not they are worth the paper they are written on.

A detailed analysis in 2016, by political scientists Rory Costello of the University of Limerick and Robert Thomas of the University of Glasgow, showed that the Fine Gael - Labour coalition of 2011 to 2016 found that 44% of manifesto pledges were fully fulfilled.

Of the 2007 to 2011 Government, Fianna Fáil was found to have fulfilled 30% of its manifesto pledges while the Greens fulfilled 20% during their time in office. This compares to 50% of pledges in the previous Fianna Fáil PD coalition.

There are no statistics or studies yet available for the outgoing government. But experience has shown in other countries that manifesto pledges fare badly in minority governments. 


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That is something that is likely to be further complicated by the Confidence and Supply deal of the outgoing government arrangement. And could mean that the election pledges made today will be subject to negotiation with whatever constituent parts are required to make up the jigsaw in next government. 

Then there is the factor pointed out by Fine Gael's Regina Doherty who recently noted that "nobody reads manifestos."

Party strategists will accept that voters now have less time and interest in digesting policy details. This makes manifestos far less important in the eyes of voters than they once were. 

But I spoke to a number of former party strategists and communications advisors who are closely watching this campaign. One thing they all agree on is that manifestos and their launches have a role in positioning the party at a crucial point in an election campaign.

"They give a party an important basis to craft messages and  a platform in the campaign," one former adviser told me.

Another said parties will try to have some eye-catching accessible proposals related to on-trend policy areas. An example of this is Fianna Fáil’s SSIA style saving scheme for people who want to buy their own home.

Parties will "sweat these" proposals rather than push the manifesto as a whole.

It is also important to avoid any big howlers in a manifesto.

Remember the UK general election in 2017 when Theresa May was accused of a "manifesto meltdown" when a proposal to make people may more for the cost of social care was branded a "dementia tax." This seriously undermined her efforts to win a clear mandate. 

Despite the big show time launches today, and the promises that might be made, all parties know this: No matter how well crafted a manifesto might be, the reality is that parties have been developing and advocating policy proposals at least two years out from an election.