Strong transfer patterns between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in local elections

Figures suggest Social Democrats was most transfer-friendly party, while Sinn Féin voters transferred least to other parties and candidates

Voters at a polling station at Drumcondra National School in Dublin on June 7th. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

An analysis of voting patterns across seven councils shows a consistent pattern of substantial transfers between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael candidates throughout the State.

In each of the councils there was also strong discipline among Sinn Féin voters, with the vast majority of transfers going to another party candidate or being non-transferable if no Sinn Féin candidate was left in the race. Between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of transfers went to a Sinn Féin colleague.

The Social Democrats were most transfer-friendly and picked up votes from eliminated candidates from all parties, including – in smaller numbers – the two main Government parties and Sinn Féin.

There were consistent transfers in all council areas examined between the three centre-left parties: the Social Democrats, Labour and the Green Party.

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For example in count 9 of the Limerick City West local authority area (LEA), the exclusion of the Green Party’s Peter Spencer (with 508 votes) saw 110 transfers each going to the Labour Party and the Social Democrats. In contrast three candidates from the Green’s coalition partners, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, shared only 98 votes between them.

Aontú was another party whose voters tended not to transfer to other parties. When Aisling Considine of Aontú was eliminated in the South West Inner City LEA on the 10th count many of her votes were non-transferable. Those she transferred went to non-party (108); Social Democrats (54); Sinn Féin (36); and Fianna Fáil (27).

The councils that were examined by The Irish Times were Wexford; Sligo; Galway County Council; Limerick: Carlow; Meath; and Dublin.

Geographical proximity of candidates is a factor in rural areas. There were heavy transfers between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the Athenry LEA of Galway County Council. When Albert Dolan of Fianna Fáil was elected on the first count from his surplus of 675 Fine Gael got 185 votes and Fianna Fáil got 232. In a subsequent count the exclusion of Shelly Herterich-Quinn (FF) with 1,118 votes saw the bulk go to Fine Gael (494) compared to 263 for Fianna Fáil. The remaining Fine Gael candidates were located in the same area as her, and Dolan, the closest Fianna Fáil colleague, had already been elected.

Significant transfer patterns between the two parties is seen in all other LEAs in Galway. When Fianna Fáil’s Shane Curley was elected on the first count in the Loughrea LEA, the biggest part of his surplus went to Fine Gael candidates, with only 49 going to Fianna Fáil colleagues.

In Meath eliminations in Ashbourne, Navan, and Kells saw Fianna Fáil transfer at a 3:2 ratio between its own candidates and Fine Gael candidates. Likewise a Fine Gael elimination in Laytown-Bettystown LEA saw 168 to Fine Gael and 123 to Fianna Fáil.

In Carlow a Fianna Fáil surplus of 679 favoured Fine Gael slightly, with 246 going to it and 228 going to Fianna Fáil.

Sinn Féin supporters tended to stay within the party with lower preferences. When Amy Farrell was excluded on count 14 in Dublin she transferred 716 of her 928 votes to two Sinn Féin colleagues, with the Social Democrats being the only other party getting a meaningful look in with 48 transfers.

In contrast, when Fianna Fáil’s Eimear McCormack was eliminated her 868 votes were split between FF (327); FG (278); SF (53), SD (43) and the Labour Party (45).

The evidence from all the councils is that the Social Democrats were the most adept at picking up transfers from all other parties, but mostly from left-of-centre rivals.

An example of a discernible spread of transfers across centre left parties was on the 10th count in Cabra-Glasnevin LEA when Angela Boyle-Shafer of Labour was eliminated with 668 voters. She transferred 280 votes to colleague Declan Meenagh, but also transferred 126 voters to the Greens and 71 to the Social Democrats.

In Wexford Andrew Bolger of Fianna Fáil was eliminated on the ninth count in Gorey LEA. He distributed a total of 415 votes to two Fine Gael candidates, more than the 303 he transferred to a FF colleague. There was a geographical element to this in addition to the fact that party colleague Donal Kenny had been elected in an earlier count.

In the seventh count in Gorey LEA Sinn Féin’s Darren McGovern transferred 412 of his 599 votes to party colleague Fionntán Ó Suilleabháin. In contrast his next highest transfer was 42 to a non-party candidate.

Likewise in the sixth count in Wexford Borough LEA, Sinn Féin’s Lorraine Smyth had 283 votes when she was excluded. She transferred 200 of those (70 per cent) to two party colleagues.

There were also indications that Sinn Féin was not as transfer-friendly as it was in 2019. There were few transfers to its candidates from Aontú, Fine Gael, the Greens or from candidates who stood on anti-migration platforms.