Yesterday was atrocious for Labour, quite bad for Sinn Fein, encouraging for Fianna Fail, great for Fine Gael and remarkable for Direct Democracy.
You’ll find the final results for yesterday’s by-election here and the 1st preference votes are extracted above. You’ll find the results in the same constituency in General Election 2011 here with the 1st preference votes extracted below. Both tables are from the ElectionsIreland.com website. It is notable that the turnout this week was very low at 38% compared to 66% at GE2011.
Fine Gael. This was a mid-term election where government parties typically do badly, yet Fine Gael maintained its landslide GE11 share of the vote and this in a period when property tax demands are landing on peoples’ doormats. The economy is stumbling along the bottom, with confirmation that we had slipped back into recession last week. Child benefit cuts, PRSI increases, Croke Park 2, imminent water charges should all have been playing on the minds of voters, yet they plumped for the Fine Gael candidate. You’d expect the electorate to be furious, yet they opted to support dynasty politics and to put a 26-year old into a €92,000-a-year job. Sympathy for the family of Shane McEntee who died through suicide in December 2012 might have played some part, but the McEntee brand is said to be weaker in the south of the constituency and Fine Gael did quite well there. There was a marginal falloff in support for Fine Gael yesterday with a relative 5.8% decline from the 40.87% share of 1st preference votes in GE2011 to the 38.49% won by Helen McEntee yesterday.
Fianna Fail. Senator Thomas Byrne lost his Dail seat in GE2011 when Fianna Fail throughout the country suffered what for it was a wipe-out. The new Government is implementing 99% of the Memorandum of Understanding which FF agreed with the bailout troika in 2010. FF oversaw the bank guarantee in 2008 and were at the helm in the 2000s as the economy ballooned in an unsustainable manner and as lax controls across state agencies, including the Central Bank and Financial Regulator, fueled the circumstances that led to the financial collapse, with consequent austerity, unemployment and emigration. But they’ve dusted themselves off and swung a well-oiled party machine into action, and have performed very well in Opposition, particularly given their role at the helm just two years ago. Recent opinion polls have pointed to a recovery in FF’s popularity, still nowhere near the traditional 40% but they touched 29% a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday FF won 32.92% of the 1st preference votes, up 68% relatively from the 19.61% in GE11. They should be very encouraged by yesterday’s results.
Sinn Fein increased their share of the 1st preference vote from 8.88% in GE 2011 to 13.02%, a 47% relative increase, and Sinn Fein is now the third party in the constituency. Their candidate is new and there was a three-week campaign. So why is the result quite bad? Fianna Fail saw their share of 1st preference votes increase by 68% compared with General Election 2011 and yet Sinn Fein should be the official Opposition given the recentness of FF being at the helm. Sinn Fein might believe that in a three-party constituency, the third party would get the third seat in the next general election, but with the Fine Gael and Fianna Fail share of the vote touching 70%, these two parties may well field two candidates apiece and may well secure the three seats themselves. Meath East may remain a Sinn Fein-free zone. And as for Darren O’Rourke being a new candidate, he was less “new” than Ben Gilroy who doesn’t even live in the constituency – he lives in Navan – and whose party was unknown to most people three weeks ago.
Direct Democracy. Ben Gilroy is from Navan in the constituency of Meath West yet he did pretty well in Meath East. Direct Democracy Ireland had its first outing in a general election yesterday. Throughout the short three-week campaign, Direct Democracy was omitted from most national platforms like RTE debates and yet it came in fourth place ahead of Labour and is not far off Sinn Fein’s heels – it won 1,586 1st preference votes compared with 3,165 for Sinn Fein. I know Ben Gilroy from his eviction protest in county Laois last year where he (temporarily) sent the bailiffs away with a flea in their ears. He seems to regularly attend the High Court in Dublin when the Quinns – Sean and family – are in court and beyond that, know very little. But from zero to 6.45% of 1st preference votes is remarkable, and it will be interesting to see if this performance was a novelty which peters out or if the party gets a foothold.
Labour. The writing is on the wall for Labour. They have recent memory of the Fianna Fail and Green coalition, they know how it goes. Labour can only hope for a recovery in the economy, between now and the next general election, which will be reflected in the lives and pockets of their traditional constituency in urban working class (?) areas. It’s mid-term and the betting remains that the next general election will take place in 2016. The outlook for unemployment however is not great and we’re still predicting 13% unemployment in 2015. Budget 2014 in December 2013 is supposed to take a further €3.1bn out of the economy, in Budget 2015 they’re required by the Memorandum of Understanding with the Troika to remove an additional €2.5bn and the following year €2bn. With tax increases taken off the table by the dominant Coalition partner, you really would wonder if Labour will return any candidates in 2016. Fine Gael is likely to become more, not less, insistent on pursuing its ethos for the benefit of its constituency as we near the next general election. Labour took the brunt yesterday for the pain being felt by the electorate, but it must be galling to see their Coalition partner romp home unscathed in the same election. Labour is a bigger species of animal to the Greens, and it is unlikely to be wiped out completely, but yesterday’s results should give that party a jolt into taking a serious look at its future.