Adrian Kavanagh, 28th April 2016
Counting for the 2016 Seanad Elections, which had commenced on the morning of Monday 25th April, finally concluded in the evening of Thursday 28th April, with the completion of counting for the Administrative Panel. This post briefly review the main trends evident in these contests.
As Figure 1 shows, the two parties that formed the government between 2011 and 2016 (Fine Gael and Labour) both lost a number of seats in these Seanad election contests – Fine Gael losing five seats and Labour losing four seats. These seat losses, of course, could be related back to the losses made by these parties at the February 2016 Dail/General Election, but the losses made by these parties in the 2014 Local Elections was more significant. The losses at the June 2014 and February 2016 elections meant that the number of Dail/Council/outgoing Senator votes controlled by these parties was down significantly on the 2011 context; a factor recognised by Labour, given that they decided not to contest/defend four of the Seanad seats won by them at the 2011 contests. In another vein, it could be argued that – given the reduced size of their respective voting blocs – these elections were relatively satisfactory ones for Fine Gael and Labour. Given their reduced voting base, it looked as if Labour would face a struggle to win any seats in these elections, given that the party could not command enough votes to reach a quota even on the larger (Labour and Agriculture) of the vocational panels. However, Labour candidates proved to be well able to attract sufficient numbers of votes and vote transfers from other groupings and Labour candidates won seats in each one of the panels/constituencies that they contested. Fine Gael, despite the stronger/more coherent performance from independent and smaller party candidates in the vocational panel elections, managed to also fare well generally in translating their vote base (the number of Dail/Council/outgoing Senator votes controlled by them) into Seanad seats. Earlier analysis suggested that the party could expect a minimum of 11 seats in these elections, but the party managed to win two more seats that this minimum level.
Fianna Fail finished with the same number of seats that they won in 2011. This, on some level, will probably be a source of disappointment for the party and they will feel that they missed out on further seats in some panels – notably the Agricultural and Administrative panels. In a “regular” Seanad election, the party’s stronger results in the 2014 Local Elections and the 2016 Dail/General Election would probably have led to the party gaining another three or four sears in these elections. This, however, was not a “regular” Seanad election. In the past, seats would have fallen to Fianna Fail candidates due to the fragmentation of the Independents and Others voting bloc. However, this voting bloc proved to be stronger and more coherent in this election, with concrete evidence that independent politicians were voting more notably for candidates from the Independents and Others bloc. The stronger performance by candidates from the Independents and Others bloc at the 2014 and February 2016 elections, obviously, meant that this was also a much larger voting bloc at these elections. But greater evidence of strategic voting by the independent and smaller party electorate meant that they were better able to translate this potential into seat gains. Five seats were gained by the Independents and Others group in the vocational panel elections – a striking achievement, given that an independent candidate had not won a Seanad vocational panel seat in the 43 years prior to these Seanad elections (the last seat being won in the 1973 elections). Independents, of course, remained as a very strong force in the two university (Trinity and NUI) constituency elections. This was also a very good election for the Green Party, as Grace O’Sullivan won a seat for the party on the Agricultural Panel – the first ever seat won by the Green Party in a Seanad election contest.
This was a good election for Sinn Fein. With the increased voting power attained from the party’s successes at the 2014 Local Elections and February 2016 Dail/General Election, the party was well placed to make gains, in any course. Due to this increased voting strength, but also due to some strategic alliances for some panel contests (which meant that party candidates were drawing support from outside of Sinn Fein) and rigorous vote management, the party succeeded in winning all the seven seats that were being contested. Indeed, all of the Sinn Fein candidates were elected on the first or second counts in all of the (five) different vocational panel contests.
The university elections have not been discussed in detail elsewhere on the site, although a list of candidates was of course offered in an earlier post. Both the Trinity and NUI contests were quite similar in terms of how they panned out. In both contests, it was very obvious from the First Count (and indeed the early tallies) as to who would be filling the first two (out of three) seats in these constituencies. In the NUI election, Ronan Mullen topped the poll by some distance, while Michael McDowell was clearly the second strongest candidate in this constituency. In the Trinity contest, David Norris comfortably topped the poll – and was indeed elected on the First Count – while Ivana Bacik, in second place, was well clear of the rest of the field in this constituency. Both contests, however, saw a very close contest for the last seat, involving three candidates. There was a very close contest between Laura Harmon, Padraig O Ceidigh and Alice Mary Higgins for much of count in the NUI constituency, however a strong transfer from Laura Harmon to Alice Mary Higgins ensured that the latter edged out Padraig O Ceidigh for the final seat by a comfortable enough 2,208 vote margin on the final count (Count 28). The contest for the final seat in the Trinity constituency was even closer! There was very little to separate Averil Power, Lynn Ruane and Sean Barrett for much of this count. In the end, following the elimination of Averil Power, transfers ensured that Lynn Ruane took the third seat here by a wafer-thin 115 vote margin.
Overall, 43 of the successful candidates (87.8%) in the 2016 Seanad Elections were either outgoing Senators or former Dail deputies or else were (City or County) Councillors. 11 of the successful candidates were former TDs/Dail deputies – amounting to a 52.4% success rate for this group of candidates. 16 of the successful candidates were outgoing Senators – amounting to a 51.6% success rate for this group of candidates. (This meant that 25 former Dail deputies/outgoing Senators failed to win seats in these Seanad elections.) 16 of the successful candidates were City or County Councillors – amounting to a 28.1% success rate for this group of candidates.
The geography of where the successful Seanad candidates in these election hailed from offers an interesting contrast with the 2011 election. In the 2011 Seanad elections (as discussed in greater detail here) most of the successful candidates hailed from the more western parts of the state, with only a small number (5) of Dublin-based candidates proving to be successful in these elections, as evident in Figure 2 above. Some western constituencies fared especially well in the 2011 elections in terms of the number of successful candidates hailing from there, but particularly Sligo-North Leitrim (which accounted for the same number of successful candidates – 5 – as the Dublin region). In the 2016 contests, however, there was a notable regional shift in terms of Seanad candidate success rates, with the number of successful Dublin-based Seanad candidates increasing significantly, but especially in relation to the Munster and Connacht-Ulster regions (Figure 2). Why was this the case? It could be argued that this was largely down to the relatively larger number of Dublin-based politicians who held votes for the Seanad vocational panel elections in 2016, relative to the 2011 numbers in this region. The main reason for this has to do with the increase in the number of councillors elected in the Dublin region at the 2014 Local Elections, as well as – by contrast – the reduction in councillor numbers in other – more rural – parts of the state. As discussed in greater detail in this report, he Putting People First reforms and the Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee Report 2013 brought a rebalancing of councillor numbers across the state, with the number of councillors in Dublin being increased from 130 to 180 at the same time as the number of councillors in most of the more rural counties were being significantly reduced. As a result, the number of City and County Councillors in the state that were based in the Dublin region increased from a level of 14.7% at the time of the 2011 elections to a level of 19.0% at the 2016 contests. By contrast, Sligo-North Leitrim became part of the larger Sligo-Leitrim constituency following the publication of the 2012 Constituency Commission report, but the Dail constituency with the largest number of Senators following the 2011 elections ended up with no Senators at the 2016 contest, even in its enlarged form. In 2016, instead, the Dail constituencies providing the largest numbers of successful Seanad (vocational panel) candidates were Mayo, Longford-Westmeath, Limerick City, Kerry and Cavan, with three candidates from each of these constituencies winning seats at these contests. Despite the listing of Longford-Westmeath here, however, the county of Longford is still left without representation at the national level, given that all three successful candidates from this constituency hailed from Westmeath.
24 of the successful candidates in the vocational panel contests were “Outside Panel” candidates, while 19 were “Inside Panel” candidates. 10 of the successful Fianna Fail candidates were “Outside” Panel candidates, while only 4 were “Inside Panel” candidates. In a similar vein, 3 of the successful Independent candidates were “Outside” Panel candidates, while only 1 was an “Inside Panel” candidates. By contrast, 2 of the successful Sinn Fein candidates were “Inside” Panel candidates, while only 2 were “Outside Panel” candidates. There was a more even divide in this regard in relation to the successful Fine Gael candidates (7 “Outside”, 6 “Inside”) and Labour Party candidates (2 “Outside”, 2 “Inside”). As regards the 24 successful “Outside” Panel candidates, 11 (45.8%) were (outgoing) Senators, 8 were City/County Councillors (33.3%) and only 3 were former TDs (12.5%). As regards the 19 successful “Inside” Panel candidates, only 2 (10.5%) were (outgoing) Senators, 8 were City/County Councillors (42.1%) and 7 were former TDs (36.8%). Most of the successful “Outside Panel” candidates were male – 21 were male (87.5%) and 3 were female (12.5%). There was a more even gender breakdown in relation to the successful “Inside Panel” candidates, however – 11 were male (57.9%) and 8 were female (42.1%). In other words, 65.6% of the successful male candidates (32) in the vocational panel contests were “Outside Panel” contests, while 72.7% of the successful male candidates (11) in the vocational panel contests were “Inside Panel” contests.
Overall, the Seanad elections were relatively satisfactory contests from the perspective of female candidates, with three more females being elected to the Seanad relative to the number who had won seats in the 2011 elections (as shown in Figure 1 above). However, females still only accounted for 28.6% of the 49 candidates who won seats at these elections – with that level being even smaller (27.9%) if one only looks at the 43 seats that were being contested in the five vocational panel contests. Relative to the 2011 trend, some panel/constituencies proved to be more successful ones from the perspective of female candidates. The number of females elected in the university constituencies increased relative to 2011, with seats being gained in both the NUI and Trinity constituency contests. Indeed Alice Mary Higgins would be the first female candidate elected for the NUI constituency in 35 years – the previous successful female candidate being Gemma Hussey in 1981. There were mixed fortunes for female candidates in the vocational panel contests, with the number of successful females in these contests increasing by just one. More female candidates were elected, than was the case in 2011, in three of these panel – the Agricultural (where the number increased from 1 to 3), Administrative and Cultural and Educational panels. However, the number of successful females fell in the Industrial and Commercial (down from 5 to 3) and Labour panels.
After the 2011 Seanad elections, the two government parties (Fine Gael and Labour) had managed to win, between them, 55.1% of the seats being contested – a notable achievement given the traditional dominance of the university constituencies by independent candidates. The scenario facing a potential incoming government is very different in the new Seanad, however. It is expected – at this point! – that a minority Fine Gael government will take power in the coming days (or weeks). Fine Gael obviously cannot command an overall majority in the new Seanad based on their current seat levels. Even if the Taoiseach’s appointees were all to be Fine Gael party members, this would only give them 24 of the 60 Seanad seats. Indeed, they are no longer the largest party in the Seanad, as Fianna Fail’s stronger result in the 2014 Local Elections ensured that they would emerge as the larger party here – albeit, just by one seat. In order to get votes passed in the new Seanad, Fine Gael will need to make deals with other parties/groups, or else rely on Fianna Fail support to the same extent as may be the case in the new Dail.
These elections also offer a rare instance (maybe even the first time!) in which a new Seanad has been elected before a new government has been formed. The last Senator to be appointed to the cabinet was James Dooge in the short-lived Fine Gael-Labour government of 1981-1982. But the Taoiseach is now in a position where there are elected Senators, as well as elected TDs, who could be considered for appointment to senior or junior ministerial positions. In terms of the Fine Gael ranks, there are now 13 Senators who could be considered, as well as 50 Dail deputies. If Enda Kenny wishes to achieve some degree of gender balance, he can now consider the party four female Senators – Catherine Noone, Maura Hopkins, Maria Byrne and Gabrielle McFadden – in addition to the eleven Fine Gael Dail deputies. It is very clear that the political landscape has changed and – contrary to the over-exaggerated expectations following the 2011 election – a context established to allow for a “new politics”. Maybe one knock-on effect of this might be to renew and reform the Seanad (and the manner in which this is elected) – as discussed in an earlier post on this site – but another effect might well see the Seanad – or indeed individual Senators – attaining greater influence on policy and at the governmental level.