The phoney war is all but over. To quote the recently faithfully departed PJ Mara – "It's showtime!"

Election 2016 is here.

November or spring? Spring was the answer. Thursday, 25 February or Friday, 26? Friday is the answer.

Will the Taoiseach "do a Bertie" and go straight to the Áras to dissolve the Dáil or will the Father of the House go into the Dáil chamber and do it?

In the end, after a quick stop at the Dáil, off he went to the Phoenix Park.

Attention now turns to the campaign. An unprecedented scenario is unfolding.

Enda Kenny is vying to be the first Fine Gael Taoiseach returned to office after winning back-to-back elections.

Labour is in a different place from the heady days of the "Gilmore Gale" that won a record 37 Dáil seats on the back of 19% of the vote.

Polls now place the party closer to its historical general election average of 10%.

Fifteen seats are now seen as a key threshold for the party.

Less than ten seats would be a very a bad day.

The Fine Gael and Labour Party conferences have shown us that "recovery" and "stability" will be key messages from the coalition parties.

If you get a euro for every time you hear these two words over the next three weeks, you would probably have enough money to fill ... the "fiscal space" – expect to hear a lot about that too.

Last weekend's Sunday Business Post/Red C opinion poll put Fianna Fáil at 17% - the exact same result as its disastrous election five years ago.

The party cites the 2014 local election results, where it became the largest party in local government, as a better benchmark of where it is at.

Fianna Fáil enters this election in the bizarre position where it says it will not go into government with Fine Gael or Sinn Féin.

That said, the party's Ard Fheis provided us with one of the best lines of the battle so far when Micheál Martin said Fine Gael "wants a coronation not an election".

Sinn Féin was on 19% in last weekend's poll, if it was to replicate that in a general election the party will roughly double the 9.9% it won five years ago.

The party currently has 14 Dáil seats and 20 plus looks well within its reach.

Expect further questions about Gerry Adams' past and the party's economic figures during the campaign.

A consistent theme of opinion polls over the last five years has been the performance of Independents.

They have even got their own "party that is not a political party" grouping in the form of the Independent Alliance.

Shane Ross is that group's leader who is not a leader.

At 25% in the weekend poll, independent candidates look set to make gains in the election.

With six fewer seats in the new 158-seat Dáil, 79 is the magic number for going into government.

Current poll results suggest help may be needed for the coalition to reach 79-80 TDs so independents could yet be the kingmakers.

The question of whether Mr Kenny might need his old colleague Michael Lowry to form a government will continue to bubble under the surface.

Election 2016 also sees a number of new players on the pitch.

Among them are Renua Ireland, led by Lucinda Creighton, and the Social Democrats, a party with three leaders – Catherine Murphy, Róisín Shortall and Stephen Donnelly.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit (AAA-PBP) group will contest the election on a shared platform and is expected to make gains.

Decimated in 2011, the Green Party is also attempting to get back into the Dáil - party leader Eamon Ryan offers its best hope.

Most of the opposition parties will hammer home the message that the economic upturn is a two-tier recovery that is not being felt by people struggling with the housing crisis, water charges, property tax, and a health service that continues to garner negative headlines.

Expect auction politics with promises of tax cuts, better services, more jobs, abolishing the Universal Social Charge and better healthcare.

Expect counter arguments that Fine Gael and Labour have merely looked after the most well-off in society.

The balance between taxation and spending, and questions around how election promises can be paid for will feature a lot in this campaign.

So the long wait is over. Election 2016 is here.


By Conor McMorrow of RTÉ's Political Staff