The Fate of Fine Gael’s Unsuccessful 2002 General Election candidates

Adrian Kavanagh, 4th September 2013

In a previous post, as a means of teasing out potential Fianna Fail 2014 Local Elections candidates, I listed the unsuccessful Fianna Fail candidates at the last (2011) general election and noted that there had been 56 of these. The level of losses by Fine Gael at the 2002 General Election – in terms of the numbers of unsuccessful general election candidates, not in terms of levels of lost support – was on a par to this, with 52 of the party’s candidates at that election failing to win seats – 18 of whom were incumbents (one other candidate was the son of an outgoing TD, while three other candidates had been members of Seanad Eireann). A study of what happened in electoral terms to the unsuccessful 2002 Fine Gael candidates might offer some clues as to the political future of the cohort of Fianna Fail’s unsuccessful 2011 General Election candidates.

Thirteen of the unsuccessful 2002 candidates (25.0% of these) were female, three of whom were incumbents (Nora Owen, Frances Fitzgerald and Deirdre Clune) at the time of the election. By contrast, Olwyn Enright and Olivia Mitchell were the only successful female Fine Gael candidates at this elections, with females accounting for just 6.5% of the much reduced Fine Gael Dail cohort after this election. In all, only 13.3% of the Fine Gael female candidates at this election succeeded in winning a seat, as against 42.6% of the Fine Gael male candidates.

Saved by Our Seanad: In all, eleven of these unsuccessful Fine Gael candidates never contested another election following their defeat at the 2002 election, including three high profile incumbents – Alan Dukes, Nora Owen and Austin Currie. Of the remaining candidates, a significant proportion tried to use the subsequent 2002 Seanad Eireann elections as a means to get into/back into national politics. In all, 22 of the unsuccessful 2002 candidates contested these elections – 42.3% of the total number – and nine of these (17.3% of the unsuccessful candidates) would go on and win seats at that election. The Seanad elections were contested by 8 of the 18 incumbents (44.4%, or 60% of the incumbents who did not retire from politics immediately after the 2002 General Election) who lost their seats at the 2002 contest and 5 from this group succeeded in winning a Seanad seat. 11 people from this group of Seanad 2002 candidates – and 6 people from the group of successful Seanad candidates – went on to contest the 2007 General Election for Fine Gael. But only Brian Hayes, Ulick Burke and Noel Coonan from the group of successful Seanad candidates (and Deirdre Clune from the unsuccessful candidates group, although she did win a seat in the 2004 Local Elections in the interim period).

Three of the unsuccessful candidates group contested the 2004 European Elections, with two of these – Jim Higgins and Avril Doyle – winning seats at this contest. Doyle was herself a sitting MEP at the time of the 2004 contest (and indeed the 2002 General Election) while Higgins had already been successful at the 2002 Seanad Elections. Madeline Taylor Quinn was the unsuccessful candidate from this group, but she did succeed in winning a County Council seat in Clare on the same day as the European elections.

Holding Their Council: Twenty five from this group of unsuccessful 2002 candidates contested the next series of local authority elections in 2004, with all of these, with the exception of Michael D’Arcy Snr who just contested the Town Council elections, contesting the City or County Council elections. This amounts to 48.1% of this group of unsuccessful 2002 candidate, but 58.1% of the eligible candidates given that the abolition of the dual mandate prior to these contests did not allow Senators to contest these elections. Only two of these candidates failed to win seats at these contests – Brendan Brady in Ballymun-Whitehall and Sheila Casey in Killarney, although she did succeed in winning a seat in the Town Council elections. Seven of the group of TDs who lost their seats in 2002 contested these elections and all of these were successful in these contests. Some of this group – Deirdre Clune and Andrew Boylan – had unsuccessfully contested the 2002 Seanad elections, but most of this group (Michael Creed, PJ Sheehan, Michael Joe Cosgrave, John V Farrelly and Gerry Reynolds) did not. Three from this group (Clune, Creed and Sheehan – all of whom hailed from Cork) went on to contest the next general election in 2007 and they all proved to be successful at this contest. Catherine Byrne, who had not been an incumbent in 2002 when losing out on a seat, also went on to successfully contest the 2007 election for Fine Gael after having retained her Dublin City Council seat for the South West Inner City electoral area at the 2004 elections. On the basis of these numbers, the County/City Council route seems to have been as good, if not a better, means of regaining/gaining a seat at a subsequent Dail Eireann election as the Seanad Eireann route. Others in this group of successful City/County Council candidates could also have gone on to contest the 2007 elections (and possibly win a/regain their Dail seat at these) but for the fact that the boundary changes made by 2004 Constituency Commission report precluded them from doing so – as for example, in the case of Gerry Reynolds, whose Leitrim base was split in two by these changes. In all, ten of this group of successful Council election candidates went on to contest the 2007 General Election and four of these candidates won seats at that contest (the aforementioned Clune, Byrne, Creed and Sheehan).

The 2007 General Election: Nineteen (36.5%) of the group of unsuccessful 2002 candidates went on to contest the 2007 General Election for Fine Gael – half (9) of the TDs who had lost their seats in 2002 returned to contest this election. (Most of this group had won a seat on the Seanad or on the City/County Councils between these two elections, but there were exceptions. Frances Fitzgerald had unsuccessfully contested the 2002 Seanad Election but she did not contest the 2004 European and/or Local Elections, while Charlie Flanagan and Alan Shatter did not contest any elections between the general elections of 2002 and 2007.) Only nine of this group succeeded in winning seats at the 2007 election – although one of the group of unsuccessful candidates, Frances Fitzgerald, would eventually return to Dail Eireann after the 2011 contest. Indeed, Fine Gael’s success in increasing the party number of Dail seats in 2007 was as much to do with the injection of new blood into the party as with the return of some of its party stalwarts. Out of this group of nine successful candidates, Noel Coonan and Catherine Byrne were the only ones who had not been TDs prior to the 2002 General Election. Hayes, Burke and Coonan were members of Seanad Eireann when they won seats at the 2007 contest, while Creed, Clune, Sheehan and Byrne were local authority representatives – the other two successful candidates were Shatter and Flanagan, neither of whom had contested an election since losing their Dail seats at the 2002 General Election.

3 of the 24 gains were accounted for by female candidates. In all, 46 of the 51 seats won by Fine Gael in 2007 were won by males and 5 (under ten percent) by females. Three of these female TDs were based in Dublin (30% of al Dublin TDs) – Olivia Mitchell, Catherine Byrne and Lucinda Creighton – while females accounted for only 2 of the 41 seats won by Fine Gael outside the Dublin region. The two non-Dublin female TDs – Olwyn Enright and Deirdre Clune – would subsequently not be members of the next Dail.


About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer at the Maynooth University Department of Geography. Email:
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2 Responses to The Fate of Fine Gael’s Unsuccessful 2002 General Election candidates

  1. Pingback: Predicting 2014 Local Election seat numbers on the basis of national opinion polls employing a constituency-level analysis | Irish Elections: Geography, Facts and Analyses

  2. Pingback: 2014 Local Election seat estimates based on a constituency-level analysis of RTE Exit Polll | Irish Elections: Geography, Facts and Analyses

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