Looking at the Transfers: The Dublin Count in the Local and European Elections

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Despite the election of Fine Gael’s blow-in candidate George ‘TV’ Lee in Dublin South, in a by-election Labour thought they had sewn up only weeks beforehand, the recent bout of elections have given the left much to cheer in the capital.

In Dublin Central, independent Maureen O’Sullivan retained the seat of her mentor, the late Tony Gregory, on a similar platform of left-informed community activism.

And in the European elections, despite the constituency reducing from four seats to three, two of those were retained by left-leaning candidates.

Sitting Labour MEP Pronsias de Rossa was, as expected, comfortably re-elected. And he will be joined by Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins, who squeezed out sitting MEPs Fianna Fail’s Eoin Ryan and Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald for the final seat.

Left candidates also did exceptionally well at local level, with Dublin City Council now boasting 19 Labour members, 7 Sinn Fein, 2 People Before Profit, and two independents from the left – Mannix Flynn and Damien O’Farrell, one of independent TD Finian McGrath’s backroom team.

This is replicated across the metropolitan area. Labour are the biggest single party on both Fingal and South Dublin county councils, and are joined on both by left-leaning others – three Socialists in Fingal and 3 Sinn Fein and one People Before Profit councillor in South Dublin.

Even in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, probably the most affluent region of the country, 8 Labour councillors will be joined by 2 from People Before Profit.

Already, Labour’s eyes are turning outwards, towards building a base in rural constituencies before an imminent general election.

But perhaps this ongoing policy has cost them in the capital, where, as one right-wing media commentator puts it, ‘the left has more heads than a hydra.’

Maureen O’Sullivan’s election in Dublin Central indicates that not only is that still the most left-wing Dail constituency in the country, but that Labour appear incapable of making inroads beyond their sitting TD Joe Costello.

This is despite the fact that the party claimed a number of council seats in that same constituency. Yet close analysis of the transfers in Dublin Central indicate that Maureen O’Sullivan’s election was never in any doubt.

She took the biggest share of transfers off every single eliminated candidate in every round, apart from one. When the Green Party’s David Geary was eliminated on the fifth count, marginally more of those Green votes transferred to Ivana Bacik than O’Sullivan.

But what does it tell us that right-wing candidates like Christian Solidarity’s Paul O’Loughlin and Immigration Control Platform’s Pat Talbot transferred to O’Sullivan rather than, for example, to Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohue?

Perhaps it indicates that these are protest votes in search of an independent home?

Certainly, when Fianna Fail’s Maurice Ahern was eliminated, those in the know in the RDS were unsurprised to see the bulk of his votes head Maureen’s way. What was eye-opening was that more of his votes went to Fine Gael than to Labour or Sinn Fein.
It seems that word went out from Fianna Fail to vote O’Sullivan as a least damaging alternative. But obviously the more conservative Fianna Fail support preferred another right-wing candidate when it came to transfers.

Again, in relation to Christy Burke’s elimination, the surprise is not that the bulk of his transfers went to Maureen O’Sullivan, but that so many went to Paschal Donohue. A quarter of Sinn Fein transfers went to Fine Gael in total. One could read this as an anti-government vote, but it remains surprising, and perhaps a testimony to Burke’s appeal beyond the Sinn Fein core vote.

Burke’s first preferences were 600 up (or 20% if you prefer) on Mary Lou McDonald’s terrible performance for Sinn Fein in the same constituency only two years ago during the general election, which itself was a huge slump from the high mark of Nicky Kehoe in 2002, when Sinn Fein outpolled Labour and the second Fianna Fail candidate , and were unlucky not to claim the seat.

Where Sinn Fein go next in Dublin Central is difficult. Christy Burke has quit the party in order to run again as an independent, and will likely destroy whatever slender chance Mary Lou has of obtaining a seat in this constituency.

And with Donohue closing on a seat himself, it seems probable that the most left-wing constituency in the country will have one FG (Donohue), one FF (likely Mary Fitzpatrick), one Labour (Joe Costello) and one independent (Maureen O’Sullivan) next time out.

This Dublin Central result is one of many examples of why this set of elections was a dreadful setback for Sinn Fein. Their vote may have slid only 0.8% from the last local elections nationally, but that discounts the fact that they ran more candidates in more locations.

The reality is that the tide is going out for Sinn Fein in the capital, and their younger candidates, like Shaun Treacy, have yet to obtain sufficient experience even as older ones like Burke are leaving.

The beneficiaries of this trend are clearly the fringe Left – Joe Higgins’ Socialists in Fingal and Boyd Barrett’s People Before Profit Alliance in Dublin, South Dublin and Dun Laoghaire.

This trend also decided the destination of the third European seat in the capital. Mary Lou McDonald polled around 13,000 votes lower than in her previous successful outing in 2004. And she showed little likelihood of catching up the shortfall on her rivals for the seat as transfers eluded her in sufficient numbers.

Joe Higgins began 5,000 votes back from Eoin Ryan, who also had running mate Eibhlin Byrne’s 19,000 or so to rely on. Or so he thought. Not for the first time, FF transfers were erratic. Only half of Byrne’s votes went to Ryan, but that still left the veteran FF man over 13,000 clear of Higgins on the third count.

In fact, all the way to the end, Ryan remained a healthy distance clear of Higgins. After the elimination of independent Green Patricia McKenna, Ryan remained 11,500 clear of his Socialist rival on the 6th count.

It was only the spectacular rate of transfers from Mary Lou McDonald to Higgins (22,000 out of an available 27,000) that put Higgins in front at the last.

McDonald’s failure was to either outpoll or pull in front of Higgins at some point, and that in itself indicates her toxicity to Dublin voters not just in terms of first preferences but also in terms of transfers too.

Mary Lou received more transfers than Higgins from right-wing candidates like Simons and Sweeney, but much fewer when it was the more substantial left-wing votes being transferred.

If there are conclusions to be drawn from this vote, it is that transfers in Dublin are extremely erratic and not to be relied on. If Ryan had received all of Byrne’s transfers, he would now still be an MEP.

It also suggests that two left-wing seats could be difficult to defend in the next European elections, especially if Fianna Fail resurge in the capital, and if de Rossa, as expected, stands down.

While Labour continue to look to the provinces in the hope of creating a three party choice for power in the Dail, they run the risk of being outflanked in their capital power base.

The best analogy here is that of the DUP in the North, who went from 1st to 3rd in the European elections due to the splits within Unionism and particularly the emergence of a more extremist form of the DUP, the TUV.

The power base of Boyd Barrett’s People Before Profit Alliance is likely to result in at least one Dail seat at the next general election, and Higgins’ Socialists can also expect at least one seat in their base in the North of the capital.

And while progression in middle class Southside constituencies like Pembroke-Rathmines will cheer Labour, they are now at risk of failing to consolidate Dublin as their territory due to splits in the left vote, despite the slide in support for Sinn Fein.

The question is now whether it is time for Labour to find ways to woo their leftist cousins, as they once did with Democratic Left. If not, to what extent can people like Finian McGrath or Maureen O’Sullivan be relied on to support Labour in power, especially if they form a coalition with Fine Gael, as expected?

And there remains the ongoing question about the microleft in Dublin as to whether it is possible for them to coalesce into a harder left force with genuine influence.

Would Higgins, McGrath, Boyd Barrett and O’Sullivan consider some form of alliance, possibly in conjunction with Sinn Fein? Is there an umbrella they could all fit under? Will McKenna form part of that, or seek some form of Green rapprochement if they pull out of government?

It seems doubtful a left alliance can be built in Dublin, and yet that’s exactly what would put them above the critical mass required to develop a genuine left alternative to the centre-left Labour, and to the rightist parties that continue to dominate power in Ireland.
Which leaves the even more intractable problem of whether the left could coalesce around Labour, especially a Labour which seems intent to cosy up to Fine Gael for power and which is increasingly looking to the provinces rather than the capital.

Image of the media scramble to talk to recently elected Maureen O’Sullivan TD in the RDS is courtesy of Red Mum and was taken from her Flickr photostream with permission. JC Skinner was also present for the entire duration of both counts at the RDS.
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11 Responses

  1. Eoin O\'Mahony

    June 10, 2009 10:12 am

    A Labour party “which is increasingly looking to the provinces rather than the capital”. And this JC, is precisely the issue:

    Until the independent Left realises that there is more to Ireland than the capital, i.e. the “provinces”, there’ll be little progress. Limerick, Sligo, Cork and Waterford all have strong Left-leaning traditions. Any realignment has to take account of the fact that power does not reside solely in Dublin. I know this article is about an analysis of Dublin’s election results but there are plenty more red shoots in the “provinces” as well, for example:

    http://www.rte.ie/news/elections/local/a01.html

  2. JC Skinner

    June 10, 2009 11:50 am

    JC Skinner is actually in that picture of Maureen O’Sullivan.
    Eoin, the challenge for the left I highlighted is that while Labour look to the provinces, the left vote is fragmenting on Labour’s flank in Dublin.

  3. Eoin O\\\'Mahony

    June 10, 2009 1:15 pm

    Agreed, the flank is fragmenting. After the weekend, I half thought of a small postcard campaign to Gilmore entitled: Look left, not right.

  4. jc

    June 10, 2009 10:15 pm

    I’m not sure what the evidence is that Labour is “looking to the provinces”. The party’s leadership is overwhelmingly made up of Dublin TDs and its success in the locals was focused in Dublin and the other larger urban areas. If anything, it should disturb Gilmore that the party has not managed to display any significant signs of life in rural constituencies where they managed seats historically, like Tipp North and South,Kerry North and South and the Spring Tide seats like Clare, Sligo and Laois-Offaly. It would certainly be interesting to see how Labour would be impacted by a coordinated campaign of smaller left parties and independents operating under some sort of loose umbrella. Just imagine a functioning left caucus after the next election of O’Sullivan, McGrath, Seamus Healy, Declan Bree, three PbP TDs, three SP TDs (Higgins, Daly, Barry in Cork) and Tynan and Walsh from the WP. All of these are potentially winnable seats, especially if the decline in the SF and Green votes open up the sort of opportunities for the left we saw in the locals. This would be the greatest ever left force in Irish hisotry and is conceivable based on this weekend’s results.

  5. JC Skinner

    June 11, 2009 12:35 am

    The ‘evidence’ for Labour looking outside of Dublin is that it is now official party policy to expand their remit in the provinces.
    This message was conveyed to me by a series of senior Labour TDs over the course of last weekend, including two front benchers, and one individual who could be considered as central to the leadership.
    The question about a hard-left alliance is one raised by a slumping Sinn Fein who are now under no illusions as to their coalitionability in Dail Eireann.
    Whether anyone of their rivals will see fit to throw them a lifebelt, I’m not sure.
    This is partly why I find a ‘functioning left caucus’ hard to imagine. And one of the sort you envisage all the harder to imagine. A lot of wish-fulfilment there, I would suggest. I see at most five of your 12 hard left seats as winnable.

  6. Austin Crankshaft

    June 11, 2009 12:39 am

    Labour has a public perception problem as well as a Dublin-versus-rural-society dichotomy. (This might be a stereotype, considering that Michael D. Higgins in Galway regularly wins rural Connemara votes). People in Dublin Central, esp. the north of the river part, don’t trust mainstream parties to get them the basic services and infrastructure they want – the most they ever got was in the 80s after Gregory and Haughey did that deal. How much of its radical edge is Labour prepared to ‘smooth out’ in order to go into coalition with Fine Gael? We’ve seen what the Greens have done, and they’re done for. Power has a price. cf. John Horgan’s book, Labour – the price of power. It’s an old dilemma for the Labour Party.

  7. Roger Cole

    June 16, 2009 12:58 am

    It is often said that opinion polls are only a guide or a prediction at the time they are taken. The same can be said of election results especially now when the entire capitalist system is in crisis. With Obama spending more money on the US military industrial complex than Bush did, as he prints more and more US dollars to pay for that expansion in the US military machine and expands the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into the Ir-Af-Pk war as they now call it, are there still people who anaylsis the election outcome of June 5th as if it was a static event in Ireland happening in isolation from the global collapse of capitalism? It would appear so, from reading the comments so far. I would contend they are wrong. The crisis is now creating all sorts of new political forces many of which are inspired by right wing nationalism all over Europe. In that context the strong showing of the left in the broadest sense is real progress. There can be no doubt that as the crisis deepens further splits and divisions within the political structures will become greater and the different sections of the left need to maintaina dialogue with each other even as the Labour Party moves towards its traditional role of sucking up to Fine Gael because this time the crisis if capitalism will make it impossible to maintain. The first contest between the neo-liberal militarist establishment of Fine Gael/Fianna Fail axis and the democratic forces will be the Lisbon2 referendum. This will be the first real battle between the forces of democracy and the elite. It will be more of a straight fight now that Ganley is off the pitch.

  8. JC Skinner

    June 16, 2009 2:31 pm

    I’m a no voter myself, but the post above this one is a crock of stinking spam as far as I can see, that airily dismisses the opinions of everyone else on the thread while simultaneously failing to engage at all with any of the issues raised.
    What’s the policy on off-topic comments spam on this site?

  9. Donagh

    June 17, 2009 8:39 am

    It’s clear that Roger is promoting his site and has done so here and across a number of lefty blogs with the pana site in the past. I’m always reluctant to delete any comment that is written by someone on a political topic, particularly an Irish political topic even if it is not relevant to the thread (as long as its not automated junk). You’re right though; this is spectacularly off topic and is nothing other than spam. I’m deleting the link. If Roger wants us to tell people about it he can write a short article about the campaign and ask us to publish it.

  10. Saoirsí

    June 19, 2009 10:55 pm

    Chill pill, anyone? It’s just a comments board, not the UN council – and he’s putting his real name to it: not really spam. He’s not even selling viagra. If it’s not spot on topicality, just ignore it, surely? What’s the policy on needless invective? And thanks for the article, by the way.

  11. Eoin

    June 26, 2009 2:38 pm

    Ha ha. This is so funny. I can’t believe they asked Skinner for an in-depth analysis. Skinner, in-depth. Ha ha ha. That moron, in-depth. Funny funny. You guys make me laugh hard. Skinner is such a muppet. Oh god, oh boy, oh jesus help me the tears are running from my eyes I’m going to lose an organ, ha ha ha, phew ha ha, whoa, phew whew he he ahh.
    Seriously though HA HA HA.