It’s been a whirlwind campaign, and it’s just about done, as we enter the moratorium phase and prepare for voting tomorrow. On NFB over the last few weeks we’ve gone over issues and candidates – check out the “General Election 2016” category for all of them – and now it’s time to lay out my own voting intentions, before making some final predictions. My personal habit is to always give a number to every candidate.
In this election, I will be giving my #1 preference to Catherine Murphy and the Social Democrats. On a local level, I have a great respect and admiration for Murphy, who has battled hard in this area for decades and has represented Kildare well as an Independent, arguably better than the three government TD’s. On a national level, I support the majority of what the Soc Dems stand for, in terms of the cost of living, tax base turning into services and the creation of a better, more responsible, political system. Throughout my looks at manifestos I’ve been routinely impressed by their stance on law and order, school enrolment and climate change. Moreover, they are a genuinely new and different voice to pick in the Irish political system, one that could prove both an effective opposition, or a significant minor part of any proposed coalition government. I think they will be a truly major player in Irish politics past election cycles to come, and that process starts now.
My #2 preference is going to go to Maebh Ní Fhallúin of the Green Party. It’s time for Ireland to forgive the Greens, and it’s time for Ireland to let a voice geared towards combating climate change and protecting the environment back into the Dail, a true centre-left party that made a mistake in 2007 but has suitably payed for it since. Ní Fhallúin herself seems to me to be a fine committed candidate, of little political experience true, but with a genuine enthusiasm for green policy in relation to Kildare North.
It was actually beyond those two that I was lost, not wanting to give any kind of top three preference to the government parties, Fianna Fail, or Sinn Fein, while still harbouring significant doubts over others.
In the end, I’m going to give #3 to Brendan Young, an Independent. I think I just prefer a hard-left voice outside an established political grouping, without the baggage that comes with those entities, who constantly squabble. While Young seems largely focused on the single issue of water charges, he is in line with me when it comes to things like rent controls, the minimum wage and the 8th Amendment.
I’m going to give #4 to Ashling Merriman of the AAA-PBP. Yes, she and her party’s economics are on the idealistic fringe, and I find little substance to much of their other policies and stances. But they have been a loud and necessary voice for opposing cuts and economic hardship, and it wouldn’t do the Dail any harm for that voice to be a little louder.
After that, it starts to get messier. Brendan Durkan of Fine Gael will get my #5 preference, though I doubt he will ever need it. Of the government TD’s, he’s the most impressive to me through his Dail record and confident persona, and I’m not totally oblivious to the partial economic recovery that Fine Gael have spear-headed.
After that, at #6, will come James Lawless of Fianna Fail. I’ve been a little disappointed in him at points – his debate performances were very poor – but of the two Fianna Fail candidates he’s the best. I still haven’t forgiven Fianna Fail for their transgressions, but Lawless at least lacks the same tarnished look as many others in the party, and seems like a decent local representative.
I was initially aiming higher with her, but Reada Cronin of Sinn Fein will have to settle for my #7. She has precious little substance to her candidacy in my view, and her online commentary has bordered on the undignified and classless at moments. All she seems to do is attack the government while offering precious little in return. Repeated criticism of the media was the final cause of her going from around #3 to here.
It’s only now that Emmet Stagg and Labour get a look in, at #8. Neither party nor candidate have impressed me much during this term, and then again during the campaign. I suppose there is very little else to say.
Coming in at #9 will be Frank O’Rourke, the second candidate of Fianna Fail. His candidacy is due to the party higher-ups placing him here, and little about his campaign has really impressed me.
And much the same can be said about my #10 Anthony Lawlor, the second candidate for Fine Gael, a sitting TD owing his seat to Durkan’s transfers, and who comes off as so desperate in claiming credit for anything and everything happening in Kildare North.
From here we’re really into the also rans. My #11 goes to Shane FitzGerald and Renua, a candidate with very little to say about himself or why he joined this new entity, and a party that I am ideologically opposed to in so many area.
My #12 will be Elizabeth O’Sullivan, one of the late Independents, based solely on her statement made to KFM, which just marginally puts her above the remaining two. Just.
A toss up at the bottom see’s my #13 preference go to Gerard Dunne, a nothing Independent candidate only notable because he was once a member of Labour.
And bringing up the rear with my #14 preference is Michael Beirne, with another Independent run, whose widely varying policies and 8th amendment views do not endear him to me in any way, shape or form.
But how do I think that Kildare North will actually turn out?
Catherine Murphy should comfortably take the first seat and be elected in the first or second counts, an outcome very few doubt at this point.
Despite a significant drop in support, I think that Brendan Durkan should not be too far behind, and will take the second seat.
In the first change, I think that James Lawless will harness the returning Fianna Fail vote that was once so large here and be elected to the third seat after a few counts, provided that the transfers from O’Rourke do come (that is, if the two don’t split the vote evenly).
My big sticking-my-neck-out prediction is that Reada Cronin will take the fourth and last seat, maybe without even reaching the quota. I’m basing this on Sinn Fein’s rise in support, the likelihood of her being transfer friendly from a host of other candidates, and for the complete opposite to be the case for Emmet Stagg, losing support and unlikely to get the transfers he once did.
That would leave Emmet Stagg just outside of the endzone in fifth. I envision a very tight race to the last count between him and Cronin, and I just find it hard to believe that he will come out of the most unpopular Labour position ever without being bloodied. His first preference vote over the years has fluctuated a bit, and this is the most unpopular Labour Party position ever. If he was to go under his previous worst – just under 6’000 first preferences – and not get transfers, he would be in serious trouble.
Another government TD should be just behind him, as I believe that Anthony Lawlor will see both a drop in his personal vote and in the amount of transfers he can expect from Durkan (or anyone), enough to see him in sixth.
Frank O’Rourke’s job is presumably to get votes that will then transfer to Lawless, and God help the Kildare Fianna Fail membership if a split vote results in no seats. Regardless, I don’t see O’Rourke challenging, I see him in seventh, starting off the mid-pack.
Due more to his slightly more significant local presence, I think that Brendan Young will get as far as eighth and a few counts, above other left candidates.
But he won’t be too far ahead of Ashling Merriman in my estimation, with she gaining a respectable ninth, relative to her political experience and campaign funds.
Into the also-rans we go, and one of them should be Shane FitzGerald in tenth, who never got much general election traction as a Green and probably won’t either in Renua.
I may like her, but Kildare North is not Green, and Maebh Ní Fhallúin will have to settle for a distant eleventh and an early elimination.
Michael Beirne will be doing well to reclaim expenses. I doubt he will, down in twelfth.
The same goes for Gerard Dunne down in thirteenth, a man running like this is a local election.
And in fourteenth I have Elizabeth O’Sullivan, running such a nothing campaign.
All that’s left is my national predictions. At the start of the campaign, my thinking ran thusly:
In the course of the resulting campaign, Fine Gael/Labour’s lack of expected momentum, Sinn Fein’s steadiness and a trend of support moving towards smaller parties and Independents has me now thinking that the 32nd Dail will look like this when the counting is done:
I’m not buying any talk of a “silent Tory” vote for Fine Gael (our voting system would offset part of it anyway) and I think dissatisfaction with the leading parties, especially with other viable options presenting themselves on a level never seen before, will lead to this outcome, a chamber as hung assay in the history in the state.
There are only two two-party coalitions that hit or get close to the magic number of 79 according to this projection. One is Fine Gael/Fianna Fail, who would have 86 (with CC), but would require significant backtracking from both party’s leaders, and an awkward ratification process from Fianna Fail. The other is Fine Gael/Sinn Fein, who would have exactly 79 (with CC), which would be workable, but this appears even more unlikely than the first option.
Beyond two parties, there are few combinations that might possibly work. Fine Gael, Labour and Renua could muster a scant 65 seats, too few to make up the difference with “like-minded Independents”. The same goes for Fine Gael, Labour and the Soc Dems, 66. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein are nowhere near. A grand left coalition of Sinn Fein, AAA-PBP, the Soc Dems and whoever else is likely to join such a venture would also fall well short.
The likelihood then is a minority government of Fine Gael and Labour, propped up as it sees fit by Fianna Fail, if Labour don’t decide to back out themselves. No one in that arrangement will be happy, and everyone will be thinking about the next vote. A hung Dail as described here simply cannot function effectively, which will almost certainly lead to another election in the short-term. Great for commentary. Bad for the country.