Fianna Fail are the sleeping giant of the Irish General Election. In the history of the State, up to 2011, they have been Ireland’s largest party. They have the biggest gene pool of traditional voters and the biggest network of Fianna Fail voting ‘being in the family’. We’re talking deep-rooted dynasties all around the country. Everyone is dissing FF’s prospects on the basis of poor polling performances (before a recent rise) and general media apathy towards the party. But make no mistake, they are the hardest organisation to read.
The other thing to consider is this: if you scratch a Fine Gael strategist and ask them who they most fear losing votes to in this election, they will say ‘Fianna Fail.’ A disaffected Fine Gael voter from 2011 is more likely to vote for Fianna Fail, than for Sinn Fein or a left wing candidate. Therefore, Fianna Fail represent the most potent threat to Fine Gael’s ambitions.
In terms of the largest party, on the best day for Fianna Fail, they could hit 25% in the upcoming Irish General Election. I can’t see Fine Gael going any lower than 28%. This is based on the ‘shy-pollster, Tory factor’ where people might not want to admit they are voting for the Soldiers of Destiny. The big question is: can Fianna Fail win a seat in every constituency in Ireland to get to 40 seats? My best prediction is that they’ll get between 32 and 40.
Before I get to the ‘low hanging fruit’, here are three threats to Fianna Fail’s existing 20 seats…
- Cork South Central is not a slam dunk for FF, by any means. With the reduction from five seats to four, Fianna Fail face a threat from Sinn Fein and the fact that Fine Gael could hold two seats. The irony is they have their party leader Micheal Martin (above) and his effective deputy Michael McGrath in this constituency (FF don’t have a formal No2). I’m told from private polls that McGrath has been polling ahead of Micheal. On balance, it’s unconscionable for Fianna Fail to lose a seat here. So I’m saying it’s likely Jerry Buttimer will lose his seat (FG), and Ciaran Lynch (Labour) will lose his seat.
- Fianna Fail have recently had a by-election success in Carlow Kilkenny. There was some talk that the sun was going to set on John McGuinness’ career but he has the city behind him. The first Fianna Fail seat will go to him as he has a good spread of support. But Bobby Aylward has not been as active, in my view, since being re-elected. Can they hold two seats here? Yes, but it won’t be easy.
- The third threat is in Galway East which has gone from four to three seats. There’s a huge swathe of East Galway gone to Roscommon, and umpteen thousand votes with it. It raises the question: can FF hold the seat here? The Kitt dynasty, temporarily at least, has come to an end with nobody from that family standing. Is it possible, for the first time in the history of the state that Fianna Fail will get the boot from Galway East? There’s a real risk of it. The defector from Labour Colm Keaveney is not getting traction in Tuam and won’t be elected. So it’s down to Anne Rabbitte, poorly located in Portumna on the edge of the constituency. I think she’ll hold on but it’s by no means certain.
Ivan’s six bankers for Fianna Fail…
Tipperary: It’s between Jack Cahill (former president of the ICMSA) who will hoover up the farming vote from the Thurles rural area, or Michael Smith, the son of former minister.
Cork South West: This should be Fianna Fail’s first seat. Margaret Murphy O’Mahony is going to get elected. The only threat is the independent, Alan Coleman, who is an ex Fianna Fail disillusioned convention victim. His transfers on elimination will elect her, however. She’s a banker.
Dublin Fingal: This is heartland for FF – all around Dublin Airport and areas such as Swords, Malahide, Portmarnock with the legacy of Charlie Haughey and Ray Burke. It’s fertile Fianna Fail country now. They lost a seat in 2011 when a two-candidate strategy backfired. In 2016 they have Senator Darragh O’Brien as their frontrunner and, in my opinion, he is assured of election as this has also gone from a four to a five-seater.
Cork East: We have Sinn Fein in-fighting, Sean Sherlock’s seat for Labour being uncertain and Fine Gael struggling to hold two. So I’m very confident Kevin O’Keeffe (son of Ned), who did very well in the local elections, will be elected.
Meath West: The Government is in a completely untenable situation in this three-seater as they hold two seats. Young Shane Cassells, coming from Meath footballing stock, will get elected.
Sligo Leitrim: The former base of Ray MacSharry, Alongside his son Mark, Fianna Fail have a good running mate in former TD Eamon Scanlon to contest the election. They’ll definitely get a seat here.
Seats Fianna Fail could win if they have a good day…
Dun Laoghaire: Mary Hanafin has a sporting chance. You have a three-seater here as the Ceann Comhairle, Sean Barrett, is returned to Leinster House automatically. The Labour vote will collapse with the retirement of Eamon Gilmore. Fine Gael are certain of one, with Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Richard Boyd Barrett will probably top the poll for the People Before Profit Alliance. Hanafin can buck the trend of Fine Gael grabbing another seat here by relying on old loyalties and a consolidated, smart campaign.
Dublin Bay North: This five seater will be a blast from the past. There has been a vicious spat between the Haughey dynasty and Deirdre Heney, as well as the defection of senator Averil Power from Fianna Fail to run as an independent. However, Sean Haughey will get elected, with transfers on his side. He’s seen as likeable and inoffensive, and there is not the same toxicity in this generation with the Haughey factor. He’s well placed to make a comeback.
A possible seat, but I’m not calling it for Fianna Fail 100%, is Kerry (five seats). It’s unthinkable for die-hard Fianna Fail party members not to get one out of five in the Kingdom. They have no seat there at present. John Brassil is their strongest candidate and they’re talking it up. The problem is that independents such as Michael Healy-Rae are proxy Fianna Fail-ers and will cannibalise the FF vote. But it’s on the radar as a possibility to pick up a seat.
Dublin South West is another one-out-of-five shot. Middle-class votes from the south of the county will come into play here through Councillor John Lahart. Meanwhile, I believe Charlie McConalogue will be elected in Donegal, a five-seater. Pat The Cope Gallagher, a professional election campaigner is 1/4 but I’m not giving him the seat – I’m saying Thomas Pringle (Independent, 8/11) will be elected. On a good day, Fianna Fail could have a resurgence here.
Fianna Fail have a great chance in Wicklow through Pat Casey, from Rathdrum. This is old Joe Jacobs and Dick Roche territory. It’s a five-seater. Casey is electable and I’m giving them one here.
Elsewhere, they have a very good chance, even over and above Fine Gael, in Galway East. In a by-election Ivan Connaughton stood and lost for the party. He was a beaten favourite. But FF has revised their strategy here with Anne Rabbitte and Colm Keaveney (ex Labour) contesting.
They have no seat at present in the Waterford four seater where Sinn Fein will win a seat through David Cullinane. The Government parties could lose two seats here, however, where Ciara Conway is a sitting TD for Labour. It’s a straight fight between Fianna Fail’s Mary Butler and Paudie Coffey (FG). They’re in the hunt.
Kildare North – Fianna Fail have a reasonable prospect here with one out of four, after a surge in support during the local elections in 2014.
Other pundits have suggested Fianna Fail have good chances in Dublin Central, Dublin North West, but I’m not going with this. From my own local knowledge, Wexford is interesting. Fianna Fail could get a second seat. Fine Gael have a weak candidate, Julie Hogan, replacing the sitting TD Liam Twomey in the south of the county. For Fianna Fail, John Browne has retired and his son James is running. But I’m hearing very positive reports about the chances of Malcolm Byrne from Gorey. He was very strong in the local elections and has, it seems, brought unity to the north Wexford campaign. In the context of Senator Michael Darcy not being the force he once was, and FG not being as good, FF are in with a strong shout.
Overall Fianna Fail’s ability to get seats amidst cannot be underestimated – especially amidst the in-fighting, battling independents who are actually Fianna Fail, and wannabes running with the wrong strategies.
There will be an element of ‘last seats’ which will fall either for them or against them.
On balance, I can easily see them getting 40 seats but 35 is a fair figure.
Ivan Yates is a broadcaster for Newstalk and former TD for Wexford who served as Minister for Agriculture. He was also chairman and managing director of Celtic Bookmakers.
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