Changes to Dublin South unlikely to erase volatility

Wed, Aug 8, 2012, 01:00

ALL HAS changed, changed utterly, in the one-time Dublin South constituency; reduced to a three-seater with a new name, Dublin Rathdown, it has a significantly altered geographical and political landscape.

However, the constituency is likely to retain its reputation for politically explosive displays of middle-class anxiety.

Volatile, unpredictable and utterly ruthless, Dublin South voters have hired and fired TDs with abandon over the years. Labour’s Eithne FitzGerald, a former minister of state, is perhaps the most spectacular example. Having polled more than 17,000 first preferences in 1992, she lost her seat at the next election.

It is also the constituency that elected RTÉ’s then economics editor George Lee as a Fine Gael TD in a 2009 byelection with 27,768 first preferences. He later resigned from the Dáil and party and returned to RTÉ.

In the constituency revision, some 13,762 voters in the Leopardstown, Foxrock, Cabinteely areas have been moved back to Dún Laoghaire, while close on 40,000 people in the Ballyboden, Firhouse, Edmondstown, Rathfarnham areas have been moved to Dublin South West.

There is an immediate problem for Fine Gael. Three of the five seats in Dublin South are held by party TDs: Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, Olivia Mitchell and Peter Mathews. Three Fine Gael candidates in the new three-seater is not a viable option.

As of now, Dundrum-based Mitchell, with her strong local base and years of hard constituency work, is expected to contest the new Dublin Rathdown. So is Mathews, who capitalised on the swing to the party and away from Fianna Fáil in a highly successful vote-sharing exercise. Shatter may consider a move to Dublin South West, given his strong Rathfarnham base.

Fine Gael’s vote rose by nine points in Dublin South the last time, securing the three seats with 2.2 quotas. That result, coupled with his support for Kenny in the leadership heave, copper-fastened Shatter’s place in Cabinet. Much will depend next time on Fine Gael’s popularity nationally. The competition will be intense.

Labour’s Alex White pushed his party’s vote up eight percentage points in Dublin South, securing 8,524 first preferences and winning a seat on the sixth count. Running mate Aidan Culhane, who now works as an adviser to Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan, polled 4,535 first preferences. White’s dilemma will be whether to opt for the new constituency or follow a significant part of his vote into Dublin South West. He represented Terenure-Rathfarnham on South Dublin County Council until his election to the Seanad, and he contested the byelection won by Lee.

A complicating factor, should White decide to move, is that Dublin South West already has two sitting Labour TDs, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte and Eamonn Maloney. They would be unlikely to greet a third outgoing Labour TD on the ticket with any great enthusiasm.

Although the political parties will target Independent Shane Ross’s seat, he is likely to remain a formidable candidate in the three-seater. His poll-topping performance of 17,075 first preferences, 1.41 quotas, in Dublin South was a remarkable achievement, even allowing for his high profile as a senator and financial commentator. He had the highest first-preference vote in the State next to Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Mayo.

Ross has secured a strong Dáil profile as one of the technical group’s representatives at Opposition Leaders’ Questions to the Taoiseach. As elsewhere in the capital, Dublin South was a political wasteland for Fianna Fáil in the general election. Its vote collapsed from 32 per cent to 9.42 per cent, as sole candidate Maria Corrigan battled against impossible odds. It was all a far cry from the days when Tom Kitt and the late Séamus Brennan could be relied upon to take two of the five seats for the party.

Had it remained a five-seater, an obvious Fianna Fáil candidate the next time would be John Lahart, an adviser to Kitt when he was a minister of state, who polled an impressive 3,605 first preferences in the Rathfarnham electoral area in the South Dublin County Council contest in 2009. He is expected to seek a nomination in Dublin South West next time.

Gerry Horkan, who represents the Stillorgan electoral area on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, is a possible Fianna Fáil candidate in Dublin Rathdown. Horkan, who was co-opted to the council in 2003, held his seat in the 2004 and 2009 local elections and has a strong community base in the area.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, a former minister and TD for Dublin South, is to decide in the autumn if he will run in Dublin for the party in the 2014 European elections. If he stays in domestic politics, he may focus on Dublin Rathdown. Otherwise the election mantle could fall, perhaps, to a Green councillor emerging from the local elections.

Sinn Féin’s Sorcha Nic Cormaic polled 1,915 first preferences in Dublin South last time. And the party will be looking to the local elections to build a base from which to challenge for a seat in the much more difficult new three-seater.


Dublin Rathdown:

Alan Shatter, Olivia Mitchell, Peter Mathews, FG; Alex White, Lab, Shane Ross, Ind