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Ivan Yates: The notion Fine Gael will surge towards Government on their own is ridiculous

The former Fine Gael minister gives the breakdown of Fine Gael wins and losses in the upcoming Irish General Election...

by Ivan Yates | February 4, 2016

Fine Gael will, of course, be the largest party in the next Dail. The lowest figure I see them going to is 28 per cent; the lowest amount of seats is 55. The best it gets for them is 32 per cent of the vote and 62 seats. So the notion that they would surge towards government on their own is ridiculous.

If we start with the positives for Fine Gael coming into this election there are three constituencies for which today they don’t have a seat, and can make gains.

In Dublin’s Fair City…

There is a good chance they will succeed where they failed in 2011 when they got no seat in Dublin North-West, which is the Finglas/Glasnevin area. There’s a sizable chunk of Paschal Donohoe’s old territory has gone into North-West middle-class voters – this could push councillor Noel Rock, the sole standard-bearer for Fine Gael ahead of the sitting Labour TD John Lyons.

They don’t have a seat in Dublin South-West either at present due to Brian Hayes’ move to Europe. Now that it’s a five-seater and getting a surge in votes from the Rathfarnham and south Dublin middle-class areas and 39k votes with it, I’m confident Colm Brophy will get elected.

The third win will come due to the defection in Roscommon-Galway of Denis Naughten (Independent) and the retirement of Frank Feighan – this creates the prospect of zero seats but I fancy Maura Hopkins to get the last one as Fianna Fail have made a mess of things in this constituency.

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No Order Along The Border

The good news for Fine Gael is that they will be represented in every constituency, in my opinion. The bad news is there are still 20 seats in jeopardy. The border constituencies look particularly vulnerable and I predict they will lose two seats in Cavan-Monaghan where Joe O’Reilly will fail to get elected, and they’ll go from three seats to one.

Next door in Donegal, it goes from six to five seats and while Joe McHugh will get in, they’ll be down one. The border misery continues in Louth where the second seat, Peter Fitzpatrick, is unlikely to hold on at the expense of Sinn Fein. It’s between Fergus O’Dowd (FG) and Ged Nash (Labour) but I fear a further loss for Fine Gael there.

Moving around the country the cost to Renua is quite high, perhaps three seats.

In Dublin Bay North, Terence Flanagan is standing for Renua and in this redrawn constituency only Richard Bruton (1/25) will hold. In Dublin Bay South, Renua leader Lucinda Creighton’s defection will also cost Fine Gael a seat with just Eoghan Murphy getting elected. I don’t see Kate O’Connell being successful.

The woe continues for Fine Gael in the five-seater of Dublin Fingal where James Reilly will hang on for the sole seat as Alan Farrell loses out. Similarly, the two FG seats in Dublin Mid-West can’t be retained. The minister, Frances Fitzgerald will hold on, but Derek Keating will lose his seat.

On the southern side of the capital, Fine Gael face real problems because in the former five-seater of Dublin South, Peter Matthews defected to become an Independent and Olivia Mitchell retired. Now I do see them retaining the South West seat, given the Rathfarnham area has moved over, but it’s only likely that Alan Shatter will hold on in Dublin-Rathdown. Colm Brophy will retain Brian Hayes’ seat too. But there’s a loss of two in the two constituencies.

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Ivan Yates quote

A further loss is likely to occur in Kildare North (Anthony Lawlor losing to James Lawless of Fianna Fail in the battle of Naas). Fine Gael and Labour will hold one each, alongside Catherine Murphy (Social Democrats).

In Galway East, Ciaran Cannon (the last leader of the PDs) is in jeopardy as this constituency has been substantially redrawn. Fine Gael will find it very difficult to hold two as it’s down to three seats. Similarly in Mayo, it’s gone from five to four seats and the loser here will be Michelle Mulherin while Michael Ring and Enda Kenny obviously hold on. It’ll be two out of four for FG as Dara Calleary (FF) and the newcomer Rose Conway Walsh for Sinn Fein will get a seat.

Meanwhile, the redraw in Tipperary (two three-seaters become a five seater) means Noel Coonan loses his seat there. Further problems will arise in the commuter county of Meath – I can see Ray Butler tumbling to Fianna Fail and Shane Cassels (FF) in Meath West.

Fine Gael’s Fighting Chance

Let’s move to areas where Fine Gael have a fighting chance of holding seats but they can’t win them all.

Fine Gael hold two out of three in Limerick County and Dan Neville is retiring to be replaced by his son Tom. Niall Collins is the standard-bearer for Fianna Fail and I fear that FG might come up short here and lose a seat to a former Fianna Failer, and now Independent Emmett O’Brien.

In Cork North West there’s a similar story. Aine Collins is under pressure from the new independent John Paul O’Shea. In Longford-Westmeath, the winner of the bye-election in Athlone Gabrielle McFadden is under huge pressure from Paul Hogan (SF) and Kevin ‘Boxer Nolan (Ind) – she won’t be able to stave off this pressure as they will transfer to each other. She’s a loser.

The retirement in Wexford of Liam Twomey sees a new candidate Julie Hogan running – she’s unknown and Fianna Fail could get two seats here with only Paul Kehoe elected for Fine Gael in this five-seater. In the battle of North Wexford, Malcolm Byrne (5/6) could edge out Michael Darcy (FG) which would be a loss of a seat on the back of Twomey’s retirement.

Under threat in Kerry is the second seat where Jimmy Deenihan is safe but his colleague Brendan Griffin could be in trouble. Others very much in doubt include Jerry Buttimer in Cork South Central (now just a four-seater). Obviously FG are under pressure in Clare and Waterford but could just about hold onto these seats.

Better news for FG is in Dublin Central and it’s a fight to the political death between Costello and Donohoe.

Ivan Yates on Dublin South in Irish General Election

In Sligo-Leitrim, John Perry will hold on and Andrew Doyle will hold the second seat in Wicklow. In other constituencies, there’s no real threat to the likes of Leo Varadkar, Catherine Byrne (Dublin South-Central), etc.

In conclusion, between redraws and retirements, Fine Gael are down to 66 before they’ve begun. There’s a further 11 seats in serious danger, and my best guess is they’ll end up with 58 seats, down considerably. If they can keep their seat losses to under 20, it wouldn’t be a bad performance relative to the local elections. There is a buoyant mood among Fine Gael strategists, verging on complacency. They’ll escape in places like Roscommon-Galway where Fianna Fail have messed up their strategy but they won’t be lucky everywhere.

Areas where the economic recovery hasn’t hit are those of greatest danger for Fine Gael.

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