Analysis: Proposed transfer pact makes sense for SF

Left-leaning arrangement could translate into extra seats for party via transfers

Pact with other anti-water campaigners makes perfect sense for Sinn Féin. Photograph: The Irish Times

Pact with other anti-water campaigners makes perfect sense for Sinn Féin. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Sinn Féin’s proposed transfer pact with other anti-water campaigners makes perfect sense for the party, even if some of its potential allies don’t plan to reciprocate the gesture.

Vote transfers will have a vital bearing on the outcome of the forthcoming general election, and will determine which party or parties will be able to form a government.

Traditionally bigger parties have done better from transfers and have benefited from a significant seat bonus as a result. If all the anti-water candidates transfer to each other in significant numbers, they could gain seats they would not otherwise have a chance of winning.

For instance, in the last general election Fine Gael won 36 per cent of the first preference vote, but managed to translate that into 46 per cent of the seats, putting the party very close to winning an overall majority.

By contrast, Sinn Féin won 10 per cent of the vote in the last election but that gave the party just over eight per cent of the seats in the Dáil.

Since it began to contest Dáil elections seriously in 1997 Sinn Féin has struggled to get transfers from the candidates of other parties or Independents and has failed to win seats as a result.

Potential growth

It has become one of the truisms of electoral politics that Sinn Féin is transfer-repellent.

It is one of the factors that is limiting its potential growth, despite the significant gain in support it has made over the past few years.

For instance, in the lifetime of the current Dáil the party topped the poll in the Dublin West and Dublin South West byelections, but was edged out of winning a seat on each occasion by hard left candidates Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy.

In the Dublin West byelection of 2014 Sinn Féin’s Paul Donnelly was marginally ahead of Coppinger on the first count, but lost to her on the final count by a massive 3,000 votes after a series of eliminations saw her picking up far more transfers than him from all of the other candidates.

The pattern repeated itself in the Dublin South West byelection later last year when Sinn Féin’s Cathal King was ahead on the first count. He managed to stay ahead of Murphy right up to the last count, but was overhauled at the end due to Fine Gael and Labour transfers going against him.

It is hardly surprising that Murphy is the most vocal opponent of a transfer pact with Sinn Féin, as that might alienate potential transfers from Fine Gael and Labour voters.

Byelections

In the two Dublin byelections of 2014 the contest was between Sinn Féin and its allies in the water charges campaign, so there was not an opportunity to gauge the level of transfers between them.

The Carlow-Kilkenny byelection of this year provided an example of what can happen to transfers in a more representative constituency where the mainstream parties retain significant support.

One of the features of Carlow-Kilkenny was the significant level of transfers between People Before Profit (PBP), the Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) and Sinn Féin candidates.

When AAA candidate Conor MacLiam went out on the third count, 57 per cent of his transfers went to either the PBP or Sinn Féin. When PBP’s candidate Adrienne Wallace went out on the fifth count, 34 per cent of her transfers went to Kathleen Funchion of Sinn Féin.

The Carlow-Kilkenny experience showed the benefits to Sinn Féin of a transfer pact with its anti-water charges allies.

In constituencies where the AAA and PBP are strong the reverse should also be the case.

For instance, in Dún Laoghaire good transfers from Sinn Féin to Richard Boyd Barrett should help him to retain his seat and the same will apply in other constituencies where the hard left has strong contenders.