What 1992 was to the Windsor family, 2009 was to Fianna Fáil – its annus horribilis. With support in the low 20s, the party finds itself in uncharted waters and it is patently struggling to find a way back to dry land.
Reasons to be fearful: It would seem ridiculous to start with analysing why the party should be cheerful because the negatives so wholly outweigh the positives, so we're starting with the downsides. The party is blamed by a huge section of the electorate for causing the current economic mess and it is getting zero credit for taking the tough decisions to try and address the fiscal crisis. After decades of solid support from the public sector, the decision to introduce the pension levy and pay cuts on those workers means they will be alienated from Fianna Fáil for the foreseeable future. The cutbacks and welfare reductions will also hit its working class support while the commuter belt, where it won the last general election, is arguably worst-hit by the property crash and economic recession.
Although Brian Cowen will undoubtedly lead the party into the next general election, there is less than whole-hearted enthusiasm among TDs for his leadership style. His reluctance to follow public opinion, in the manner of his predecessor, is admired, but his communication skills have been criticised (although they have improved in recent months).
It's true that the party has survived a really difficult end-of-year period, and in years to come, the budget just gone may come to be regarded as a turning point for the economy, but Fianna Fáil can have no realistic expectations of any sizeable rise in support in the foreseeable future. Next year's budget won't be as difficult but very unpopular decisions will still have to be made: the spreading of the tax net to include low earners, property tax, water charges and so on. Never before has the natural party of government looked so vulnerable.
Reasons to be cheerful: Rule number one of government? Stay in government. That Fianna Fáil adhered to that despite all the obstacles placed in its way in recent months suggests it would be unwise to write it off just yet. By getting through the recent budget, it has bought itself some time and it could well be 2011 or even 2012 before there is another election. By then, it is just possible – with a bit of luck and a lift in the global economy – that the situation here will have begun to improve, which may alleviate some of the public antipathy towards Fianna Fáil. However, it seems to be more about damage limitation than any realistic ambition of winning the next election.
One bright spot to emerge in 2009 was Brian Lenihan, who was probably the most impressive politician of the past 12 months.
Meanwhile, Cowen is said to have a determined focus to do the right thing regardless and has also shown the necessary appetite for the fray in recent months. The very minimum required is for that to continue.
YOU know we live in extraordinary times when the year closes with Fine Gael on top of the heap. The old saying goes that with crisis comes opportunity and Fine Gael, for the first time in its history, has an opportunity to shed its permanent number two status.
Reasons to be cheerful: Where does one start? 2009 was the year when Fine Gael, after three-quarters of a century on the hind tit, took pole position. Ten points clear of Fianna Fáil in the opinion polls for most of the past 12 months, and with 122 more seats on local councils than the Soldiers of Destiny, Fine Gael is poised to win its first general election since 1982 (when nobody who is now under 45 had the vote).
If there is a general election in 2010 – now more a possibility than a probability – Fine Gael (with the help of Labour) will win it and win it well, of that there is no question. Taoiseach-in-waiting Enda Kenny may still not convince sections of the electorate but there is no question of his shrewdness as a leader.
Wooing George Lee was a master stroke, giving the party a huge by-election victory and generating excitement about the Fine Gael brand. The front bench, with the likes of Richard Bruton, Leo Varadkar, Phil Hogan, Brian Hayes and James Reilly, looks strong and won't be brushed aside by the Fianna Fáil big boys, as happened to Fine Gael in the 2007 general election campaign.
Reasons to be fearful: There is much more reason for cheer than fear, but it is possible to come up with a couple of negatives. Despite the party's number one status, there is a nagging feeling that, given the public anger towards Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael should be scoring higher than the low to mid-30s in support and Kenny's personal rating should be higher. It must also frustrate party strategists that, with the government having come through Lisbon, Nama and the renegotiation of the programme for government, it now looks as if a general election won't happen until 2011 or 2012. The public mood is such that it probably won't matter but the government does have time to try and improve its fortunes.
Fine Gael also lost the Nama debate and there has been a contradiction between its tough talk on tackling the public finances and its opposition to virtually every budgetary measure introduced by the government (although whether the public is too bothered about this is moot).
Enda Kenny looks untouchable as leader. However he still has his doubters within the parliamentary party and in the (admittedly unlikely) event of Fianna Fáil closing the gap in the opinion polls, old questions could resurface.
As with Fine Gael, Labour TDs will be feeling pretty satisfied with their lot over Christmas and the party is on course for a very good or even a great performance, 1992 style, if there is a general election in the coming year.
Reasons to be cheerful: A popular (some would say populist) leader, consistently strong showings in opinion polls, excellent local and European election performances and positive media reviews, there are plenty of positives about Labour now. Eamon Gilmore is no economics whizz but he understands brilliantly how politics work. He was accused of ruthlessness in his treatment of John O'Donoghue, but voters just saw it as somebody at last doing what needed to be done. He has consistently done the business in the Dáil, even if at times he has overcooked it by being too populist.
Even though it's inevitable that Labour will end up as a junior partner to Fine Gael in the next government, Gilmore has been very successful at building a very separate, almost anti-establishment image for Labour and hasn't been afraid to step on FG toes in the process. Labour has also been successful at wooing public servants who are clearly disenchanted with Fianna Fáil.
Reasons to be fearful: Labour is extremely vulnerable to accusations that its figures don't add up when it comes to delivering what the party accepts are necessary savings for the public purse (although what difference this makes with voters is open to debate).
Labour also has to be careful not to overdo the 'Gilmore for Taoiseach' line. It's fine up to a point but it hasn't the remotest possibility of becoming a reality. The two opposition parties also need to be careful that their policies don't become so different that questions will be raised about their ability to have a working relationship in coalition.
Labour has opposed virtually every single cutback the government has made. That has gone down well with voters but there could be a problem, if and when the party does get into government, with delivering on expectations.
Has there been an unluckier party in Irish politics? It had no hand, act or part in causing the recession. (On the contrary, of all the political parties, it raised most questions about bad planning, unsustainable development and the race for economic growth above all else). And since it has gone into government it has shown considerable bottle in taking tough decisions in the national interest. And its reward is a pasting in the opinion polls and wipe-out in the local elections.
Reasons to be cheerful: It's hard to find too many. It is in government and introducing a Green agenda, albeit in the teeth of an economic recession. Despite the media begrudgery, the party also got a great deal in the revised programme for government. With control of the Department of Environment, it can make a difference with planning and climate change over the next couple of years.
Reasons to be fearful: The Greens' opinion poll ratings and local election performances are if anything worse than the PDs in the last Dáil and we all know what happened the PDs. The local election results showed all six Green seats are extremely vulnerable. The electorate is in no mood to differentiate between Fianna Fáil, which was in government for the past 12 years, and the Green Party, which came in only after the problems began.
With no money to spend, it's difficult to put a visible Green stamp on the government. The Green leadership has shown commendable bottle over the past year but these are nervy times for the party.
The economic, fiscal and banking crisis should be made for a protest party such as Sinn Féin but the party appears stalled in neutral and needs to be careful it doesn't slip into reverse gear.
Reasons to be cheerful: Not too many, although the party has come through much more difficult times in the past, so don't write it off. The deeper the recession hits, the more potential it has to increase its support.
Reasons to be fearful: A lack of money, divisions over the best future strategy for the party in the Republic and key figures bowing out amid signs that the traditional military-style discipline and commitment are breaking down, there are genuine reasons for Sinn Féin strategists to be worried.
Sinn Féin's local and European election results were overshadowed by Fianna Fáil's hammering but they were very poor given the favourable wind behind the opposition parties.