Hanged, Redrawn and Quartered
A rule of thumb in Irish politics has it that the churn rate of TDs at a General Election is usually around the 20 per cent mark. It’s a rule that has been ignored more often than obeyed- last year’s General Election was an obvious example.
But say politics – by some remote chance – turned to a kind of settled and normal pattern by the time of the next election, would the churn rate fall accordingly?
Well today’s report by the Constituency Commission has put paid to that. As these things go it’s a radical document with wholesale changes. The scalpel has been wielded unmercifully in quite a few places, particularly in Dublin.
The number of constituencies will fall from 43 to 40. We will also have eight fewer TDs. And there can be no other reading of it that – even if the status quo in terms of support stayed contant – the churn from this redrawing of constituencies will be considerable.
It’s a tricky business trying to calculate the identity of potential losers and winners but that’s never stopped us before! And we can only go, truthfully, on what is in front of us at the moment.
That said, it seems from an intial scrutiny of the maps, that it’s likely to be Government deputies who will lose out in the lowering of the number, though at least three independents have also been pushed out to the precipice.
The two most obvious examples are Dublin South and Mayo. Mayo has four Fine Gael TDs. It won’t hold all four in a redrawn constituency of four seats. Therefore it is vulnerable to lose one if not two seats there. Similarly, Dublin South is being reduced from a five seater to a three seater. Though it’s a fickle constituency, it does not mean that Shane Ross will be returning to the Seanad any time soon. The two losses will be either two FGers or one FG and one Labour, in my estimation.
Cavan-Monaghan is being reduced to four. That’s a Fine Gael loss. They can’t retain all three. Given that swathes of Cavan will disappear, Joe O’Reilly looks vulnerable although John Conlan might be the fall guy.
Similarly, Labour or Fine Gael would look most vulnerable in the five seater Dublin Bay as they have five TDs in both consituencies. So a Labour loss there, at at minimum, is my call.
Dublin Central is being reduced to a three-seater having lost most of middle-class Navan Road. That will put Government TDs Paschal Donohoe or Joe Costello most under pressure.Just on the profile of the areas being lost, it’s Donohoe who will have most to worry about.
Dublin South Central will also drop from five to four. One of the two Labour Party seats is likely to disappear, as I think PBP TD Joan Collins will consolidate.
In Galway East (reduced from four to three) Fine Gael (2) and Labour (1) could not hope to fill all three vacancies. On strictly map terms Paul Connaughton junior looks most vulnerable as he has lost a lot of his heartland with the transfer of Ballinasloe and Glenamaddy into Roscommon-Galway. But in reality, the Connaughton brand is a strong one and his Fine Gael colleague Ciaran Cannon or Labour’s Colm Keaveney might be in more difficulty.
Frankie Feighan of Fine Gael also looks vulnerable in the newly-created Roscommon-Galway with the nominally independent Denis Naughten winning the ‘Fine Gael’ seat.
Tipperary, Kerry and Donegal all had two three-seat constituencies. All will now have one five-seater. My own hunch is that independents may be the losers in two of the three consituencies. There are three independent TDs in Tipperary. Michael Lowry is safe but Mattie McGrath and Seamus Healy (sure he’s a member of the ULA alliance) will both claim to be struggling. But it’s the big loss of territory in North Tipp to the new Offaly constituency will make Fine Gael’s Noel Coonan the most at risk.
In Donegal, Thomas Pringle will have a fight on his hands. You can safely say there that there will be two Sinn Fein seats, one Fine Gael and one Fianna Fail. Pringle will be in the battle for the last seat with a FGer, based on current standings.
Down in Kerry, it will be Tom Fleming who may struggle most, although the three Government TDs won’t be resting on their laurels either.
Cork South Central is going to be fascinating. It’s one of the only constituencies where Fianna Fail won two seats. That’s going to be much tighter for them. But then the TDs are party leader Micheál Martin and finance spokesman Michael McGrath. While Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer will lose a lot of heartland territory with Bishopstown votes crossing over to the North of the Lee, his Labour colleague Ciaran Lynch will also have his work cut out to retain his seat.
A few constituencies have increased their seat count. Laois-Offaly has been increased from a five-seater to two three-seaters. Only two of the five TDs in situ are based in Offaly. That means the extra TD will come from there. Based on the February 2011 election (where Fianna Fail dissident John Foley was the best-placed Offaly candidate), that could be a Fianna Fail gain. Likewise, increasing Dublin North to a five seater (that includes Swords) will make Daragh O’Brien a very strong contender.
Likewise the enlarged Dublin South West, now with five seats, will see a gain for either Fianna Fail or a smaller left-wing party. It could accommodate both if Labour were to lose one of its two seats.
Sligo-Leitrim (taking in a little of south Donegal) could provide a gain either for Labour’s Susan O’Keeffe or Fianna Failer Mark MacSharry.
The other constituencies remain more or less the same, bar some boundary changes.
The above exercise is, I stress again, based on present circumstances, how things stood after the General Election.
It does not take account of poll data which shows a substantial rise in Sinn Fein support. Nor does it take account of ‘unaffected’ constituencies such as Dublin Mid West where it is inconceivable that the two Governement parties could hold four seats out of four next time round. Another change not factored in has been the precipitous fall in Labour support in opinion polls.
So my tot is that Fine Gael may lose seven seats; the Labour Party may lose three; and Independents may lose two.
That’s a total of 12.
On the basis of poll data, that would be far worse, especially for Labour. On the other side of the coin, in newly-configured constituenices, Fianna Fail could gain a possible three (Dublin-Fingal; Offaly; and Sligo-Leitrim) and a small left-wing party could win the other (Dublin South West).
Fine Gael: Joe O’Reilly: Ciaran Cannon; Frank Feighan; Peter Matthews; Paschal Donoghoe; Noel Coonan; Michelle Mulherin. Labour: Sean Kenny; Michael Conaghan; Ciaran Lynch. Independents: Thomas Pringle; Tom Fleming.
* Addition: I was on Drivetime there and realised that I had excluded Alex White (Labour, Dublin South) from the above list of TDs who may find themselves in a vulnerable electoral postion.