Adrian Kavanagh, 27th May 2014
Much of the focus of the Counts Weekend was on the very strong showings by Sinn Féin, the left-of-centre smaller political groupings/parties and the independents, as well as the significant number of seat gains made by Fianna Fáil. But this was also a very good weekend for the Green Party, even though Eamonn Ryan just fell short in his attempt to win a European Parliament seat in Dublin. The party’s vote was up significantly in both the local and European election contests, especially relative to the Greens’ poor showing at the 2009 contests, while the party gained a number of seats at the local election contest. But most of the party support and the bulk of the local election seat gains came from the party’s relatively limited traditional middle class Dublin support base.
In the local elections the Green Party won 1.6% of the national share of the vote. This actually represented a decline on the 1.8% vote share that the party won at the disastrous 2011 General Election. However, the Greens contested each one of the 43 Dáil constituencies at the 2011 contest, whereas the party only ran candidates in 47 (34.3%) of the 137 local election constituencies at the May 23rd (and June 7th) contests. The Greens had won 2.4% of the national vote at the decidedly less successful 2009 contests, but again the number of Green Party candidates contesting these (77) was much higher than the number contesting the 2014 Local Elections. The Green Party won 4.5% of the votes cast in the 47 constituencies that the party contested. The notable difference in terms of the propensity of rural voters and urban voters (and especially middle class urban voters) is readily evident from Figure 1 (above) and if one looks at the party’s share of the vote in these different areas. Only one in every two hundred votes cast (0.5%) in the rural electoral areas were cast for Green Party candidates. By contrast, the party won 4.9% of the vote (and 8 seats) in the Dublin region.
As Figure 2 shows, the party fared especially well in the more middle class Dublin constituencies where the party share of vote stood at 6.7% (as compared with a 2.8% support level in the more working class constituencies). That said, although the bulk of their gains were made in the more middle class constituencies (including Rathfarnham, Rathgar-Rathmines, Castleknock and Dundrum), the party did make a notable gain in the North Inner City electoral area where former junior minister, Ciarán Cuffe, won a seat.
Outside of the Greater Dublin region (and this includes the Bray electoral area, where Steven Matthews won a seat) the party succeeded in winning only three seats in the areas where Malcolm Noonan and Mark Dearey in 2009 had successfully defended the support bases that they built up. Noonan defended his seat in Kilkenny City-West despite a decidedly unfavourable boundary change there. The Greens pulled off a risky candidate selection in Dundalk, with Mark Dearey and Marianne Butler winning seats in Dundalk-Carlingford and Dublin South. But the party failed to contest a number of areas where they previously held seats, including Muinebeag (includes Mary White’s old Borris constituency), Naas and Lucan, although their former Dáil deputy, Paul Gogarty, won a seat in the latter. The party’s results in Cork City were disappointing, with former Dáil deputy Dan Boyle failing to win a seat there.
In terms of overall support levels, the party fared notably stronger in the European election contests than in the local elections, as can be seen from Figure 3 above in which the party’s European and local election support levels by European constituency are compared. This was especially so in the Dublin constituency where Eamonn Ryan came very close to winning a seat, but also in the South constituency where Grace O’Sullivan polled well. The higher European election vote may be down to the fact that the Greens were contesting a relatively small number of local election constituencies (especially outside of Dublin), but may also tie in with the party’s traditional tendency to fare better at European contests given the sense that some voters have of environmental issues as issues that are best dealt with at the European level, as opposed to the national or local levels.
The Green Party fortunes have improved notably in these local elections, especially given that many commentators (not this author!) had written it off a political force after 2011. But it has become yet again a party that is mainly dependant on its middle class Dublin heartland for the bulk of its support and representation and potential Dáil seat gains will be focused exclusively on middle class constituencies such as Dublin Bay South, Dublin Rathdown, Dún Laoghaire and Dublin Fingal.