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Michael McDowell: Enda Kenny WILL be Taoiseach again but based on Labour’s collapse here’s how the next Government could shape up

In his second article for the Paddy Power Blog, the former Justice Minister and Tanaiste outlines the coalition prospects for Fine Gael

by Michael McDowell | January 19, 2016

Fine Gael look set to do reasonably well in the coming election. But just how well? Remembering that they came close to an overall majority (76 when they needed 82) in 2011, the term “doing well” is relative.

They will almost certainly still be the largest party after the election; Enda Kenny will be Taoiseach for a second consecutive term (a “first” for FG). In one sense that is doing “well”.

But going down from 76 TDs in 2011 to the low 60s in 2016 can hardly be described as a triumph, even in a slightly smaller Dáil (158 next time; 166 then).

How “well” does FG need to do to form another coalition with Labour?

Ivan Yates, who is also blogging for Paddy Power, believes Labour will struggle to get 12 seats and may just get nine or 10 seats or less. I will take his analysis as a starting point to assess the prospects of the present coalition being re-elected.

Given that a bare government majority now requires having 79 TDs, FG would need to get 67 seats if Labour gets 12. FG would need 69 seats if Labour only gets 10 seats. Is that possible? Let’s see…

Irish General Election is 40 ‘mini-General Elections’

In truth, the Irish General Election is not one single election but a series of 40 “mini-general elections” in 40 separate constituencies each of which has three, four, or five seats. Things can change radically even in the short course of the election campaign in each constituency, as my experience in 2002 demonstrates.

In March 2002, a Prime Time constituency poll commissioned by RTÉ gave me no chance of being elected in Dublin South East. It showed Eoin Ryan TD and myself were well out of contention, getting less than 10% each. For me, the campaign was all-out war. Our campaign on the ground was really good.

Nine weeks later, I topped the poll – having gone “up the pole” in Ranelagh with the famous “One Party Government – No Thanks!” poster in the interim.

Fine Gael’s chances in 2016

To gauge FG’s prospects in this campaign, we have to ask three questions:

  • Will FG get at least one seat in all 40 constituencies?
  • In how many constituencies will FG get two seats?
  • Can FG get three seats in any constituency?”

Paschal Donohoe politician

Fine Gael have 38 bankers

My hunch is that with 30% of the national poll, Fine Gael will get at least one seat in 38 constituencies. So they have 38 “bankers”. There are two “doubtfuls” for FG and in largely working class constituencies in Dublin – Dublin Central (now reduced to three seats, meaning that the quota there is 25%) and Dublin North West (where Fine Gael got no seat even in the 2011 landslide).

Their candidates, Pascal Donohoe and Noel Rock, will have a fight on their hands to get elected in those constituencies. Paschal is battling it out with Mary Lou McDonald, Maureen O’Sullivan, Joe Costello, Christy Burke and Mary Fitzpatrick in Dublin Central. FG got 19.9 of first-preference votes in 2011.

In Dublin North West FG got just 16% of the vote in their 2011 landslide. Noel Rock would need to unseat Labour’s John Lyons (who only got just under 15% in 2011 and is vulnerable), Sinn Féin’s Dessie Ellis, or Social Democrat Roisin Shortall to get a seat.

On a bad day FG could also miss out in Dublin South West as well. With Brian Hayes (who got 19% of the vote in a four-seat constituency) gone to Europe, the party is pinning its hopes on Colm Brophy. With an extra seat this time (DSW is a five0seater), and a weak Labour candidate, FG should pull it off.

But let’s take it that they have 39 banker seats in prospect on the basis of “safe” single seats in the 40 constituencies.

“Two Seat” Wins

Now let’s look at places where FG could reasonably hope for two seats on a very, very good day. There are many constituencies where such a result is likely and a few where it would be unlikely. The very best case scenario for FG “two-seat” outcomes is as follows:

Dublin: Dublin Bay South, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin Fingal, and Dublin Rathdown. (Four)

Leinster: Wicklow, Longford Westmeath, Carlow Kilkenny, Meath East, and Louth. (Five)

Ulster: Cavan Monaghan (One)

Connacht: Galway West, Galway East and Mayo. (Three)

Munster: Waterford, Clare, Limerick City, Limerick County, Kerry, Cork East, Cork North West, Cork South Central, Cork South West and Tipperary. (10)

So if we add these 23 possible “second seats” to the earlier 39 safe “single seats”, we could get to 62 seats.

Three Seats Anywhere?

FG got four out of five in Mayo last time. This time it is a four-seat constituency and three sitting TDs are seeking re-election for FG – Enda Kenny, Michael Ring and Michelle Mulherin. Enda described the task of getting three seats in Mayo as “herculean” in October.

On a spectacular day for FG, the party might get three out of four in Mayo, bringing FG to a grand total of 63. But such a “spectacular” result would only happen partly at the expense of Labour who would then be lucky to come in with more than 10 seats.

Michael McDowell Quote General Election

No “danger” of an overall Fine Gael majority, as things stand

So, as things stand, there is very little chance of an overall majority for FG. No need for my “One Party Government – No Thanks!” poster, I think. Unless there is a massive shift to FG in the polls in the coming weeks, they will, at best, be 16 short of an overall majority.

Even with Labour winning 10 seats, on this kind of performance FG and Labour would still quite likely be 6 or 7 short of an overall majority.

So, the most likely outcomes of the election are either some form of unstable rainbow coalition with splinter parties and/or independents. Or else, a FG-FF coalition with 90 to 95 seats.

Michael McDowell is a senior counsel and former TD who served as Justice Minister and Tanaiste, as well as leader of the PDs. He will contribute to the Paddy Power Blog during the 2016 Irish General Election.

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