Adrian Kavanagh, 6th July 2012
Last month’s Constituency Commission report and the decision to reduce the number of Dail seats by 8 will have a profound impact on the result of, and the number of seats won by different parties at, the next general election. But what would the result of last year’s general election have been had these boundaries been in place for that contest. Similar to Sean Donnelly’s analysis on electionsireland.org this analysis suggests that the extent of Fianna Fail losses in that election would have been tempered somewhat and that Labour and independents would have been the groupings most disproportionately affected in terms of lower seat levels. Unlike Sean Donnelly’s analysis, which exclusively uses the figures for the old constituency units, this analysis is based on amended constituency support figures taking account of party support level changes arising from movements of territory in and out of constituencies in cases where tally figures are readily available, or where educated guesstimates of such support figures can be gleaned, as discussed in greater detail in the previous post. This analysis estimates that the final party seat levels in the 2011 General Election, had the 2012 Constituency Commission report general election boundaries been employed, would have been: Fine Gael 74, Labour Party 34, Fianna Fail 22, Sinn Fein 12, United Left Alliance 5, Green Party 0, Independents and Others 11.
The constituency by constituency breakdown of the newly allocated seat levels would have been as follows:
|Cork North Central||1||1||1||1||4|
|Cork North West||1||2||3|
|Cork South Central||1||2||1||4|
|Cork South West||2||1||3|
|Dublin Mid West||2||2||4|
|Dublin Bay North||1||2||2||5|
|Dublin North West||2||1||3|
|Dublin South Central||1||2||1||4|
|Dublin Bay South||2||2||4|
|Dublin South West||2||2||1||5|
As with all “what if” scenarios, some of the seat allocations here are open to debate, some of which I’ll go through here.
Cork North Central: Billy Kelleher’s strength in rural parts of Cork North Central, which would now be moved into Cork North West, along with the addition of urban areas south of the Lee, would have put more pressure on his attempts to retain his seat. This could well have amounted to a second Fine Gael seat at the expense of Fianna Fail had these boundaries been in effect, although Kelleher’s closest rival for the final seat, Fine Gael’s Pat Burton, was strongest in the same areas of the constituency as Kelleher was and would have been equally disadvantaged by these boundary changes.
Donegal: The combined vote for independents would have been sufficient for them to win one seat in the new Donegal five seat constituency area, but this would have been a vote fractured between one strong candidate, Thomas Pringle, and a four candidates in the old Donegal North East constituency who each won between 1,000 and 2,000 first preference votes. Pringle’s own vote share in the new constituency area would have amounted to just 7% of the vote. Pringle would have been reliant on a strong transfer from other independents to stay in contention but, as transfers patterns in Laois-Offaly, where the combined independent vote had also exceeded the quota, showed, transfers from independent candidates are more likely to be shaped by local factors as opposed to amounting to independent to independent vote transfers. As such, Fine Gael would have been better placed to take a second seat here as against one seat being won by an independent candidate (Pringle).
Dublin Central: A hard one to call, especially given the lack of tally figures for this constituency. On paper this would have looked like a toss up between Maureen O’Sullivan and Mary Lou McDonald for the final seat here, but Paschal Donohoe may well have also been in the mix here given that the loss of Drumcondra and Ashtown would have been expected to impact on his number of first preference votes (it could at least be expected that Joe Costello would have topped the poll here). The destination of vote transfers from Fianna Fail would have been decisive here (although the number of these would have been reduced due to the loss of the old Ahern Drumcondra bailiwick and part of the Fitzpatrick Navan Road bailiwick) and these may well have edged the final seats towards Paschal Donohoe and Maureen O’Sullivan, but the margins between these and Mary Lou McDonald on the final count would have been very narrow. Indeed it could well have been a case of Sinn Fein taking the seat here instead of Fine Gael and Fine Gael taking the seat assigned to Sinn Fein in Dublin North-West as noted below.
Dublin Bay North: A similar scenario to Donegal in that the combined independent vote would have been higher than that of the combined Fianna Fail vote, but again Finian McGrath would have been reliant on a very good transfer from independents (although he would have accounted for a much more significant chunk of the total independent vote here, as opposed to Pringle in Donegal, especially when the transferring of Portmarnock and Baldoyle out of the constituency would have been factored in), which could not have been guaranteed, and stronger intra-party Fianna Fail transfers could well have just edged Averil Power or Sean Haughey ahead of him to take the final seat here. The big fly in the ointment here however would have been the destination of Sinn Fein vote transfers on the final count, which could well have swung the pendulum back in McGrath’s favour. This really would have been a 50-50 call between Finian McGrath and Averil Power/Sean Haughey as to who would have won out here.
Dublin North West: The transfer in of territory in Drumcondra equivalent to a population of 11,506 people into the constituency would have increased Fine Gael prospects of winning a seat here at the expense of the second Labour seat or even the Sinn Fein seat, although the inclusion of this area on the other hand would have added to the number of votes won by Labour’s Roisin Shortall. Again a similar case to Dublin Central, with Fianna Fail transfers likely to have had a decisive impact on the final allocation of seats, in which there would be very little between the second Labour candidate, Sinn Fein and Fine Gael in the battle for the final two seats.
Dublin Rathdown: Shane Ross (although he may have narrowly missed out on exceeding the quota on the first count here, given the reduction in seat numbers and the resultant increase of the percentage share of the vote required to reach the quota from 16.7% to 25%) and one of the Fine Gael candidates would have certainly won seats here, but it would have been a close contest between a second Fine Gael candidate and Labour (not necessarily Alex White, who may have been moved into Dublin South West following the transfer in of the Rathfarnham electoral area into that constituency) for the final seat here. Fine Gael’s strong vote management, as evidenced in the party’s ability to translate a support base of just over two quotas into three seats here in the actual contest, may well have shaded it for the second of their candidates. But Green Party and Fianna Fail transfers would have had a crucial impact on the result here.
Dublin South Central: The two Labour seats would have still been won although the loss of the Terenure area would have made it harder for Fine Gael to win their seat here. Effectively this would have boiled down to a head to head contest between two left-wing candidates, Sinn Fein’s Aengus O Snodaigh and the United Left Alliance-People Before Profit candidate, Joan Collins, for the final seat here. I’,m calling this for Joan Collins on the basis that Collins finished 740 votes ahead of O Snodaigh in the actual contest and on the basis that Michael Mulcahy (Fianna Fail) transfers would have proved crucial here and the geography of the constituency would dictate that these would have favoured Collins over O Snodaigh.
Dun Laoghaire: The areas moved (back) in from the old Dublin South constituency would have been strong Fianna Fail areas in 2007 and the inclusion of these would at least have narrowed the margin between Richard Boyd-Barrett and Mary Hanafin in the contest for the final seat here; probably not by enough to effectively erase a margin of 1,374 votes but it would have made for an especially close contest. The territory transfer could well have increased the number of Bacik votes here relative to Boyd-Barrett and – given the narrow margin between her and Boyd-Barrett on the ninth count when she was eliminated – actually seen her take a second vote for Labour here at the expense of the United Left Alliance candidate. The territory transfer would also have strengthened the position of the two Fine Gael candidates here.
Galway East: Given party support levels in this constituency, this would appear to be a straight forward enough 2 Fine Gael and 1 Fianna Fail call, but the concentrating of Labour support in eastern parts of this constituency and away from the areas being moved out would have given that party some hope of still winning a seat here.
Kerry: Fine Gael would have won two seats here and Labour would have taken one, assuming strong intra-party transfers between their candidates. The concentration of independent support in the south of the county would have ensured a strong transfer between the main independents who were all based in this part of the constituency and assured that either Michael Healy-Rae or Tom Fleming (but probably not both) took a seat here. The last seat would have involved a close contest between Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein; there would have been more Fianna Fail votes, but shared between two candidates and with some leakage expected when it came to the vote transfer between the two of these and this could have edged Martin Ferris to a narrow victory here.
Kildare South: No changes in party seat numbers probably involved in this case, but Sean Power may well have taken the one Fianna Fail seat arising from the significant loss of votes to Sean O Fearghaill in the areas in the south-west of the constituency that are being moved into Laois.
Laois: Charlie Flanagan would have topped the poll comfortably and Sean Fleming would have ensured a Fianna Fail seat, but four political parties would have enjoyed some prospects in relation to the destination of the final seat here. I’d still edge this slightly towards Sinn Fein’s Brian Stanley. But Fine Gael, on the weight of total vote numbers, may well have been better placed to take a second seat here though party prospects would not have been helped by John Moran’s significantly lower first preference vote tally relative to Flanagan which would have left him below the other serious contenders on the first count. While the total Fianna Fail vote would have been lower than the Fine Gael vote, the fact that Fleming and his running mate, John Moloney, were relatively close together on first preference tallies would have left Moloney somewhat ahead of Moran in terms of first preference numbers. Labour candidate, John Whelan, would have been somewhat lower than Brian Stanley in terms of votes from Laois but the addition of territory from Kildare would have increased the Labour vote here and a good transfer from Fine Gael to Labour could well have made for a close contest between Whelan and Stanley for the final seat here.
Offaly: The local/Offaly-based strength of Fianna Fail’s Barry Cowen and Fine Gael’s Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy would have ensured at least one seat for both of these parties, while the combined vote tally of a number of strong Offaly-based independent candidates would seem to edge the extra seat towards one of these, probably John Leahy following the return of the south Offaly area (which also would have further strengthened the Corcoran-Kennedy support base here). The big imponderable here would be the impact of the addition of the northern party of Tipperary into this constituency. Given that their 2011 candidates were both Laois-based, the 2011 vote share won by Labour or Sinn Fein in Offaly would not have sufficed to have put either of these parties into contention here.
Tipperary: Michael Lowry would have had sufficient support to win a seat here, while Fine Gael could still have expected to win two seats and Labour to win one seat. The final seat would have involved a contest between the stronger of the two Fianna Fail candidates and Seamus Healy (United Left Alliance-Workers and Unemployed Action Group). The combined vote of the two Fianna Fail candidates would have been greater than Healy’s vote but some vote leakage would have arose when it came to the vote transfer from the weaker of the two Fianna Fail candidates to the stronger one. The destination of Mattie McGrath transfers would have been decisive here, while the loss of territory in north Tipperary to the new Offaly three-seater would have had an impact, probably to the disadvantage of Fianna Fail’s Maire Hoctor, Fine Gael’s Noel Coonan and Labour’s Alan Kelly.
This analysis suggests that Fianna Fail would have won two more seats at the 2011 General Election had that election been fought on the basis of the new Constituency Commission election boundaries, despite overall seat numbers being reduced by eight. The overall reduction in seat numbers would have seen the party lose out on of their two seats in Cork South Central, but it is estimated that that party could have won extra seats in Dublin Fingal, Dublin Bay North and Sligo Leitrim. The Dublin Bay North seat could well have fallen to independent, Finian McGrath, admittedly, while more pressure would have been placed on the Fianna Fail seat in Cork North Central, but on the other hand the party would have had a strong chance of challenging for the final seats in the Tipperary and Kerry constituencies and possibly would have had an outside chance of winning another seat in the Laois constituency. The likelihood of Fianna Fail winning out in these close call contests would have, of course, been dependent on the party getting some luck in terms of vote transfers, but of course little luck was heading Fianna Fail’s way in the 2011 contest.
Fine Gael would have been expected, based on this analysis, to have won one fewer seat in Cavan-Monaghan, Dublin Rathdown and Mayo but to have gained one extra seat in Dublin South West, amounting to a net reduction of two seats. The party would have also been well placed to challenge for extra seats in the new Laois and Offaly constituencies and possibly win another seat off Fianna Fail in Cork North West, arising from the territory transfers involving that constituency, while a seat gain in Dublin North West would have become a more likely prospect. However, party seats in Dublin Central and Dublin South Central, in addition to the assigned second seats in Donegal and Dublin Rathdown, would have been rendered more vulnerable by these boundary changes.
The analysis suggests that Labour would have won three fewer seats, with the party missing out on seats due to seat reductions concerning the Dublin Bay North, Dublin Rathdown and Galway East constituencies, although the party might have enjoyed some outside prospects of taking seats in the latter two should vote transfers and the order of candidate eliminations have broken favourably for Labour in these. Labour seats in Tipperary and Kerry would have been somewhat more vulnerable, although the party would have been expected to still hold these unless the vote transfer from the weaker Labour candidate to the stronger turned out to be less significant than expected.
Sinn Fein would have been expected to have gained little advantage from the boundary changes had these applied in the 2011 contest, although it may have raised the prospect somewhat of another Sinn Fein gain in the Dublin North City area (Dublin Bay North). Against that, if the boundary changes had been applied to the 2011 contest the party would have been likely to have missed out on seats won in Dublin Central and Dublin South Central due to seat losses involving these constituencies, while the party’s seats in Kerry and especially Laois would have been rendered more vulnerable.
In the case of the United Left Alliance candidates, the seat prospects of the Socialist Party’s Claire Daly (Dublin North) and Joe Higgins (Dublin Central) would not have been unduly affected, though boundary changes affecting Dublin West may have reduced the Higgins share of the vote there to some degree. The seats of People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd-Barrett (Dun Laoghaire) and Joan Collins (Dublin South Central) would have been rendered more vulnerable, although both of these would have been likely to have narrowly taken these seats, with a similar scenario applying in the case of Seamus Healy in Tipperary. Cork North Central becoming a decidedly more urban constituency in addition to Dublin South West gaining a seat would have seen the Socialist Party’s Mick Barry and Mick Murphy respectively winning a somewhat larger proportion of the quota in these constituencies but not to the extent that they would have been in contention to pick up seats.
Independent seats would have been lost out on in Donegal, Dublin Bay North, Kerry and Tipperary, as is suggested by this analysis, although the Finian McGrath seat may well have been retained as discussed above, while there would have been a strong prospect of an independent gain had the Offaly three-seat constituency been in existence at the 2011 contest.