Kildare North: Final Thoughts

So, another election done…or sort of done, at time of writing the count is still continuing in three places. But it is done in Kildare North where Catherine Murphy, James Lawless, Frank O’Rourke and Bernard Durkan were elected in a field of 14 candidates, the final picture looking like this:


Let’s take a closer look at those 14, their campaign, first preferences, transfers and potential future.

Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats blew the rest of the field away with her performance, elected on the first count with 1320 votes to spare, the only elected rep in this constituency to breach quota. This was coming all through the campaign, with Murphy harnessing her own popular profile and the national preferences for “Other” effectively. In a field full of unpopular government candidates and two Fianna Fail members, everything was in place for her to dominate. And she did.

I would wager she would have been very transfer friendly if it had come to that, but it didn’t. Her own transfers were split remarkably evenly when it came right down to it, the average percentage total being 7.6% per candidate (percentages being a bit more helpful than vote numbers in determining candidate preference):


If they had all gone to one person it would have been a powerful boost, but Murphy seemed to attract a slew of voters willing to give additional preferences all over the political spectrum. I wonder, in a future election, if the Soc Dems might not be tempted to run a second candidate here. If Murphy could improve upon this total, the possibility would be there for 1.5 quotas, which would be enough to see two candidates in contention.

The Soc Dems failed to get anyone else in beyond their three co-founders, which is disappointing, but gave a good showing nationally. Murphy will continue to be one of the more articulate and effective opposition voices, provided the Soc Dems don’t take a risky trip into a rainbow coalition. I doubt they will. I doubt they are that stupid.

But aside from her, it was Fianna Fail who were the big story, upsetting many expectations with a powerful performance, that saw both of their candidates, Councillor’s James Lawless and Frank O’Rourke, elected. This was a surprise to me, considering their campaign: Lawless fluffed his lines in local debates and I barely heard anything from O’Rourke. But, beyond my own bubble, they were clearly doing the work and winning the votes, presumably the same votes that previously saw two Fianna Fail TD’s elected here pre-2011. Whatever my own personal feelings about it, the result Fianna Fail gained in this constituency is one to marvel at.

The two polled nearly 14’000 votes between them, solidifying their place in the top four. Lawless, the local convention candidate tipped for bigger things in the future was the leader, and stayed rigidly in second place the entire count process. O’Rourke was stuck in third until the very last count. Part of the reason for this was their transfer attractiveness. Both got significant transfers from the likes of Maebh Ni Fhalluin and Reads Cronin, and with the exception of the hard-left candidate, they were coming out good in most counts.

Lawless and O’Rourke go into what is bound to be a tumultuous Dail, and neither has made any firm statement on how they feel a government should be formed. They have dues to pay, and will probably have to wait a while for a serious opportunity to impress. Fianna Fail can be a brutal party when it comes to handing out frontbench positions and Ministerial portfolios. But Lawless is a rising star, and O’Rourke’s success as part of an unlikely two candidate strategy is unlikely to go unnoticed. Whether the Irish electorate should have forgiven the party so easily after just five years is another question entirely.

Coming in third was Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan, now the oldest TD in the Dail I believe, with running mate Anthony Lawlor the best placed loser in fifth. Fine Gael simply could not rally enough support to get two candidates re-elected, in a campaign where Durkan seemed largely anonymous and Lawlor overly-desperate to seem busy and effective, claiming credit for jobs he had no hand in creating. It was only natural that the junior man, so locally focused its questionable he should ever have been elected to the Dail, should lose out. The message didn’t work, and Fine Gael simply could not get the traction they were hoping to get.

On only three of the eight counts involving transfers did Lawlor do better than O’Rourke, and Durkan only did better than Lawless once. Only once, the last count, did the two Fine Gael candidates do better in transfers than the two Fianna Fail candidates together. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Fine Gael were transfer toxic in this election, but the numbers I will elaborate on shortly speak for themselves. People weren’t interested in giving Lawlor or Durkan a helping hand, and only Durkan’s strong first preference vote saved him. Lawlor, only elected on the strength of Durkan’s transfers in 2011, didn’t have that.

Durkan will probably have to deal with a leadership battle in Fine Gael at some point, and who knows after that: minority government, coalition with Fianna Fail, opposition, hung Dail chaos. Whatever it is, he’s likely to still have a good attendance record and little else to show. Lawlor, I’m guessing, will go back to the local scene in 2019, and I wouldn’t even bother running him – or any extra Fine Gael candidate – in a second general election if it comes soon. Just no point.

Onto the others then. Emmet Stagg’s decades long career as a TD has come to an end. If I was wrong about Fianna Fail in Kildare North, I was at least right about Stagg. I predicted weeks ago that he would be in trouble, even while many others insisted his local support would trump his party’s national unpopularity. But they failed to take into account Stagg’s fluctuating vote numbers over the years, or that he had never faced re-election with his party is such an unpopular position.

The end result was a catastrophe, Stagg’s worst first preference haul since his first, failed, run at the Dail in the early eighties. It was over for him after the first count realistically speaking, and I believe that Stagg himself never actually showed up at the count centre in Punchestown.

The transfer situation followed on. He got big hauls from Ni Fhalluin and Cronin late on, but precious little elsewhere, Stagg as transfer toxic as he has ever been. His own transfers, with only four candidates and two parties to give them to, fell mostly to his coalition partners, by a fairly wide margin:


Enough to secure Durkan’s seat, but not enough to help Lawlor, Stagg’s last act to play Kingmaker for his long-serving Kildare North colleague.

Stagg’s political career is presumably over, he being over 70. Even if another general election is called in the short-term, you would imagine he will stay retired, or that Labour will see the wisdom in going to someone else. Councillor John McGinley, who ran as Stagg’s unsuccessful running mate in 2011, or Councillor Kevin Byrne, might be better choices to try and rebuild Labour’s once thriving support here.

Next was Sinn Fein’s Reada Cronin. My antipathy towards her and her party notwithstanding, I was surprised to see her do as poorly as she did. Her campaign was pro-active, she made a lot of noise on doorsteps and on social media, and she seemed to be the best placed to take advantage of Stagg’s collapse. But she and Sinn Fein let Fianna Fail swoop in and steal that momentum.

And make no mistake about it, it was a poor showing: on a day when Sinn Fein pulled 50% more nationally than in 2011, Cronin increased their vote share in Kildare North by a scant 0.9%. I’d hardly call that a good return. She was relatively transfer popular too, so a better showing in the first count would have out her right into contention. But she never really was.

Her town transfers, coming at a time when the choices were limited, went thusly:


So, the left-wing Cronin voter went to Labour, and the anti-government Cronin voter went to Fianna Fail, while plenty of other Cronin voters seemingly didn’t care all that much and went right to the party she spent most of her campaign bashing. A surprising trend, to say the least.

I’m not sure where Cronin goes from here (aside from back to her council role, obviously). Another election soon and you’d imagine Sinn Fein would stick with her, for name recognition purposes if nothing else. But if that doesn’t happen, they may look at some of their other councillors in the area, like Ida Cussen or Sorcha O’Neill. Cronin certainly didn’t put in the kind of performance to justify a great deal of credit from the party higher-ups.

Despite the fact that she, disappointingly, did not claim back expenses, I imagine Maebh Ni Fhalluin will be quite happy with her performance. Her campaign was run on a relative shoestring, the Greens firmly focused on more winnable contests elsewhere, but she made an impression, and not just on me.

Matching the Greens’ national polling numbers, she increased the Green share of the vote in Kildare North by over 50% from 2011 (though still off 2007). She never had any serious hopes of being elected, but she finished ahead of party candidates like Ashling Merriman and local councillors like Brendan Young. And, gratifyingly for the local Greens I’m sure, well ahead of former Green Shane FitzGerald. She also proved quite transfer friendly, with the voters of Murphy, Merriman, FitzGerald all turning to her with decent percentages (if not actual votes).

Her own transfers went like this:


A centre-left candidate saw the highest proportion of her votes go to a centre-left candidate, no surprise there. Then Cronin, a bit strange. The Greens and Sinn Fein don’t seem like the most obvious bedfellows. The rest, divided evenly enough.

I’m not sure where Ni Fhalluin goes from here. She’s not a politician by trade, and the Greens are still aways off from seriously competing in this constituency. A local run might prove fruitful in 2019.

It was no surprise to see Brendan Young as the highest placed Independent candidate, but it was a bit of a surprise to see him poll only 1’200 first preference votes exactly. I gave his anti-water charge profile locally a bit too much credit it would seem, though it’s also fair to say that the left vote was split numerous ways here. Only 400 and change votes more than his local run in 2014 too, which is notable.

Young attracted a fair amount of transfers as things progressed – unsurprisingly, Merriman and the other Independents favoured him with much of theirs– but was stuck resolutely in the mid-pack. His own transfers went like this:


No great surprise to see the vast majority go to Cronin and Ni Fhalluin, and nowhere near the other parties.

Young goes back to the council, but I imagine will run again when the time comes. Whether that will be worth his while…looking at these numbers, probably not.

Poor Shane FitzGerald is next. I don’t know why he left the Greens. I don’t know why he thought Renua would be a good fit. His campaign was lacklustre, and ineffective. In the end, he fell well short of his previous best first preference total, and only got 89 more votes than in 2011, matching up nicely with the disastrous performance of his new party nationwide, a political entity now with as much relevance as Fis Nua or the Communists.

A moderate amount of transfers came to him in the early rounds, but nothing to really get too excited about. His own fell thusly:


A base of Green voters seemingly headed back to the party candidate, and the rest fell evenly. Indeed, this constant repeating of an even split of votes is what kept the Kildare North count going as long as it did, with no candidate outside of Murphy capable of getting the support to reach the quota.

FitzGerald will presumably continue his minor political career with a council run in 2019, and another general run if that comes sooner. I don’t know if Renua will last that long though. I wonder if the Greens would have him back?

Ashling Merriman was one of those candidate’s AAA-PBP threw at a constituency they knew they wouldn’t seriously compete in, and her campaign reflected that. Lacking Young’s local election success, she was always going to struggle a bit, and 780 votes was her lot. The hard-left simply doesn’t have a home in Kildare North, not even with Stagg’s vote collapsing.

After gaining a moderate amount of candidates in transfers, she gave out her own in the fourth count:


No real surprises in there, Cronin and Young, the other like-minded candidates, taking the lions share. I’m guessing Merriman might run at a local level when the time comes, but her general ambitions should now be curtailed.

And so, to the also-ran Independents, Michael Beirne, Gerard Dunne and Elizabeth O’Sullivan. Beirne’s policy proposals were as varied as they were unnerving, Dunne seemed to be running like this was a local election, and I’m still not sure who Elizabeth O’Sullivan was (weirdly, KFM devoted an odd amount of airtime to interviewing her after her elimination, having garnered a minuscule 99 votes). They were not an electorally attractive lot. Beirne actually lost votes on 2011, Dunne hardly got a ringing endorsement from the county, and O’Sullivan was nowhere. Eliminated together, without expenses, their own transfers went like this:


A surprisingly even split after Young and Lawless. The Fianna Fail man really was transfer gold.

So, to sum up each candidate’s 2016 election:

Catherine Murphy did everything that was expected from her, and stands to be a very long-term Kildare North representative.

James Lawless led Fianna Fail’s recovery, with a strong personal vote and a strong transfer performance.

Bernard Durkan is a survivor, and has survived worse than this election, this performance reflecting that.

Frank O’Rourke justified the decision to parachute his candidacy into the constituency, and his election was a remarkable achievement for Fianna Fail.

Anthony Lawlor was too dependent on Durkan to get elected, and will probably be better off on a local level.

Emmet Stagg paid the price for his party’s sins, and now goes into political oblivion.

Reada Cronin failed to make sufficient inroads for her party, relative to their national performance.

Maebh Ni Fhalluin recovered much of the Greens’ lost ground in Kildare North, and could only really be satisfied with doing that.

Brendan Young might be a bit disappointed with the limitations of his support constituency-wide, but can go back to the council with his head held high.

Shane FitzGerald’s defection to Renua was a failure in terms of seeking electoral success, but I’m sure that won’t stop him from running again.

Ashling Merriman did what was required of her, and what she was capable of, with little else more to be said.

Michael Beirne has further cemented his place as Kildare North’s resident kook candidate.

Gerard Dunne will presumably now look to a local run, probably like he really wanted to from the start.

Elizabeth O’Sullivan…probably shouldn’t have bothered.

As we go forward, I thought I might start keeping a weekly tab on what Kildare North’s TD’s are up to in the Dail, and locally, and maybe even the odd look-in on what some councillors, likely to run, are doing as well. But, that’s my last word on the 2016 General Election in Kildare North.

I hesitate to offer any firm thoughts on the national picture. It’s still unclear, at time of writing, who the largest party in the 32nd Dail will be. All I can say is that none of the possible options – Fine Gael/Labour minority government, Fine Gael/Fianna Fail, Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein/whoever else, or stalemated chaos – really appeals to me all that much. This is going to be a messy Dail, and whatever the outcome of the upcoming negotiations, it’s easy to imagine that a new election will be needed within the year. For one thing, it seems to me that it is to no party’s electoral benefit to actually go into power right now, and I’m sure upcoming leadership battles in Fine Gael, Labour, and possibly Sinn Fein, will also complicate matters.

I don’t know. I await the return of the Oireachtas with great interest. Until then, there’s always the Seanad vote to look forward to.

This entry was posted in General Election 2016, Ireland, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Kildare North: Final Thoughts

  1. Hi, to whoever penned these journalistic contributions. I’m The enigmatic Elizabeth O’Sullivan who ran unsuccessfully in 2016 General Election. I was put forward as a Fianna Fáil local election candidate in 2014 . After a bruising experience with FF machine I left that party and decided to go forward as an Independent candidate. Hence my sketchy presence etc and lack of on line impact
    Elizabeth O’Sullivan

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