If, as expected, the election takes place on Friday, February 26, then the following day will seem like the most anti-establishment day ever in Irish politics. As the tallies come in that Saturday morning it will quickly be apparent that Independents will top the poll in at least a dozen constituencies and Sinn Féin could do so in another six.
By comparison Tánaiste Joan Burton (below) and at least four of her Labour Ministerial colleagues will sweat it out till later counts and may not be elected at all.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour won more than 90 per cent of the vote. Through the 1980s, 1990s and 200Os they held onto at least three quarters of it. They even managed 73 per cent combined in 2011. Through all these decades of otherwise transformative change for Ireland, these two and half parties have had almost all the political market to themselves.
This election will change that. For most of the last three years between 40 and 50 per cent of Irish voters have been telling pollsters that they want to vote for someone other than the three biggest parties. Sinn Féin, the Anti Austerity Alliance and People before Profit have benefited greatly from this mood but so too have independents.
Michael Lowry will top the poll in the newly enlarged countywide constituency of Tipperary, which will position him well to negotiate a deal of support with anyone trying to put together a government.
In the new Kerry county constituency, Michael Healy Rae is also likely to top the poll and, like his father before him, will be available to negotiate support arrangements with a government in return for benefits to the Kingdom.
Shane Rose who was the best vote getter in the country in 2011 will come close to the top of that league table again in the Dublin Rathdown constituency in this election, His “Independents Alliance’ colleagues Finian McGrath in Dublin Bay North and John Halligan in Waterford are also likely to be poll toppers.
In Roscommon-Galway it is not a question of whether an independent will top the poll, it’s just a question of which one, with Michael Fitzmaurice likely to have the edge above the former Fine Gael deputy Denis Naughten. Either or both of them would also be in the mix for a care and maintenance arrangement with a government if needs be.
There will also be new independent TDs. These will probably include Catherine Connolly in Galway West, Sean Canney in Galway East and an independent from Clare: either the Rural GP Michael Harty or the disability campaigner Ann Norton. There too could be John Foley from Offaly and Michael Collins from Cork South West.
On the left of the political spectrum, and therefore less likely to support a new government will be poll toppers Clare Daly in Dublin Fingal and her pal Mick Wallace in Wexford as well as Maureen O’Sullivan in Dublin Central, Joan Collins in Dublin South Central and Séamus Healy in Tipperary.
If Fine Gael and Labour combined are close to the magic number of 80 necessary to make up a bear majority then independents will really matter in forming the next government. However, while Fine Gael could hold up to 60 of their seats. Labour may come back with less than 10.
Like most others looking systematically at the terrain in the constituencies, I am predicting that on current polling, Fine Gael and Labour could fall about a dozen seats short of a majority.
All of which means that even though Election 2016 will deliver the most anti-establishment and pro-independent results ever, a Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil coalition is still the most likely outcome. And government doesn’t come more party-dominated or more establishment than that!
Noel Whelan is a barrister, former politician, Irish Times columnist & author of the Tallyman’s campaign handbook Election 2016.
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