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Ivan Yates: Sinn Fein are no longer toxic – here’s how they can take up to 30 seats in the Irish General Election

by Ivan Yates | January 28, 2016

Sinn Fein is the party poised to make the most gains in the Irish General Election from their 2011 performance of 14 seats.

There is evidence of less ‘transfer toxicity’ to Sinn Fein these days. This is the key to converting first preference votes to seats.

The traditional profile of Sinn Fein voters is die-hard republican supporters who are older. The greatest resistance to voting Sinn Fein is from conservative over-50s worried about the party’s legacy.

The trend of voters under 35, however, is completely different. They disregard the past. They regard Sinn Fein as being both republican and socialist. We know the appeal of Sinn Fein is particularly good in border counties, where the republican factor is strong, and in working class constituencies.

When we move from these general top-line points into seats, they have a reasonable target of 30 seats in the upcoming Irish General Election.

Where Sinn Fein will hold seats…

In the redrawn constituency of Sligo-Leitrim they have two candidates – Martin Kenny and Charles MacManus. The redraw brings a small element of Ballyshannon and Ballintra in Donegal (a strong Sinn Fein area), coupled with a little bit of Cavan and the entirety of Leitrim, Martin Kenny is assured of election. They will hold this seat (sitting TD Michael Colreavy is retiring).

However, Cork East is a doubt for Sinn Fein. There has been considerable in-fighting. The prize winner last time was Sandra McLellan (from Youghal) but she has stepped down, and there is a split in the vote. They won’t hold this seat. Pat Buckley (5/4) is standing in the Midleton area but one of those at the centre of the rows, Kieran McCarthy (9/2), is now standing as an independent, and I’m tipping him to take a seat, with the support of some former comrades (as well as the factor that former Labour TD John Mulvihill is not standing). So Sinn Fein will lose a seat to what is effectively ‘independent Sinn Fein’.

Other than this, Sinn Fein will hold their 13 seats which includes two in the five-seater of Donegal – getting three seats here is a bridge too far. Incumbent TDs Pearse Doherty (1/100) and Padraig Mac Lochlainn (1/50) will get in, of course. Councillor Gary Doherty (6/4) won’t make it.

So how do Sinn Fein make gains towards 30 seats and second seats in constituencies?

General Election

[As you were: Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams hugs Enda Kenny during a debate last time around]

Making love not war – where Sinn Fein can gain…

They have a very good chance of a gain in Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams’ constituency, Louth (a five-seater). I don’t believe he will be the highest vote-getter  because of a split-voting strategy to get Imelda Munster (1/4) elected.

In the bordering constituency of Cavan Monaghan Sinn Fein have a senator Kathryn Reilly (6/5) – she got 6,500 votes in the last election and I believe she will join Caoimhghin O Caolain (1/25) in getting elected, so that’s two seats.

This sees Sinn Fein becoming the largest party in the area with two seats in each of the three border constituencies (six seats in total) along with holding the seat in Sligo-Leitrim.

Moving down to other gains, we look to working class Dublin. In May 2014 Sinn Fein became the largest party represented in Dublin City Council, after huge gains in the local elections. But they were also building individual councillors ready-made to win Dail seats in the future.

Into this category comes Michael MacDonncha (2/5) in Dublin Bay North and Chris Andrews (11/10)  in Dublin Bay South – they will both win seats. In Dublin South-West, a new five-seater, I’m predicting a surprise where Sean Crowe (1/40) will be supplemented by Sarah Holland (11/8) who’s from the Rathfarnham side and has much party support. In Dublin Mid-West Eoin O Broin (1/20) is another sure thing.

In Dublin West Paul Donnelly (1/8) is certain of a seat while in Limerick City councillor Maurice Quinlivan (1/9), notwithstanding the McCabe factor, will make the breakthrough. There’s a pattern in these constituencies with Sinn Fein. If you go back to 2002, 2007, 2011 – incrementally they have going up a couple of thousand votes each time – on some occasions climbing but not getting a seat at that time.

Over in Mayo, I see Sinn Fein getting a seat with councillor Rose Conway Walsh (9/4) who’s going to take the last seat and in Waterford, David Cullinane (1/9) will make it. I share Paddy Power’s confidence with these.

It’s a 50/50 shot in these constituencies…

But here are the constituencies where Sinn Fein have a good chance, but it’s not certain. Roughly, I’m giving them 50% of the following where they are likely or probably, whereas previously they are almost certain gains.

In Carlow Kilkenny, Kathleen Funchion (1/7) seems well placed to take a seat – she can dislodge Labour’s Ann Phelan. In Longford Westmeath I’m finding it difficult to see Paul Hogan (3/1) make it. There will be an Athlone TD, but I’m favouring Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran (independent, 2/1) to get it.

In Galway West, senator Trevor O Clochartaigh (1/3) has a sporting change, in this five-seater. In Kildare North, councillor Reada Cronin (3/1) – with a single-candidate, on-the-ground strategy – has a good chance.

Meanwhile in Tipperary, right up in Alan Kelly’s backdoor in Nenagh is councillor Seamus Morris (4/1) who has a chance of making it. I’m more favourable towards councillor Johnny Brady in Wicklow (1/10). But in my view he’s not as certain as Paddy Power’s odds suggest.

Councillor Johnny Mythen (5/2) is the Sinn Fein candidate in Wexford, a five-seater, and is also in this mix of candidates where you can take your money and your chances – not all will be elected but it wouldn’t surprise me if half made it.

Ivan Yates quote

They’ll go away, you know…

Now we go to the ones where Sinn Fein won’t make a breakthrough. They may increase their vote but won’t get additional seats – Kerry and Donegal are among these.

Sinn Fein will come up short in Kildare South and in Cork South Central. On paper there has to be a left-wing seat and Donnchadh O Laoghaire (4/7) has a chance, definitely but the strength of the Fianna Fail machine here will repel him, just.

In Cork South West, they won’t get a seat, or in   – places where Sinn Fein would claim they have good chances, but I don’t think Rachel McCarthy or Nigel Dennehy will get in. In Clare, Noeleen Moran (10/1) will make gains but suffer from a lack of party ‘infrastructure’ in the county while in Limerick County Seamus Browne (14/1) won’t make it. Meath East and Dun Laoghaire are included in this bunch where Sinn Fein won’t win seats.

If you ask a Sinn Fein member they will say they can win 36-38 seats. But from this latter category, I’m saying ‘no chance’.

My personal view is that Sinn Fein will take 28 seats from the above mix, while 30 would not surprise me. It’s a little below my Fianna Fail predictions and this is the other sideshow – who’ll be the Opposition. And these gains by Sinn Fein will still dwarf what Fianna Fail got in the last election.

There are banana skins out there for Sinn Fein – including the Slab Murphy trial. But many of the younger Sinn Fein candidates are pretty resilient to these ‘baggage’ issues. Some people from ‘Official Ireland’ and media circles can be prejudiced against Sinn Fein but in punting you have to see through that.

Sinn Fein will become the dominant left-wing force coming out of this Election.

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