#GE16 Guide to Limerick City: Intense battle amongst the Left for the final seat…

Limerick CityLimerick City

Current TDs

Minister Jan O’Sullivan (Labour), Minister Michael Noonan (Fine Gael), Kieran O’Donnell (Fine Gael),

Willie O’Dea (Fianna Fáil)

Total seats in 2016 General Election: 4

Main Areas:

Limerick City West Electoral Area (7 seats) includes Dooradoyle, Ballinacurra, Clarina

Limerick City North Electoral Area (6 seats) includes Moyross, Monaleen, Farranshone & The island

Limerick City East Electoral Area (8 Seats) includes City Centre, Castleconnell, Castletroy, Monaleen & Annacotty

Part of the Cappamore-Kilmallock Electoral Area (3 seat equivalent) includes Doon, Oola, Kilteely, & Cappamore

The recent constituency redraw has returned 11,000 people back into the constituency from the Limerick County constituency. Much of the Cappamore-Kilmallock area had been part of the old Limerick East constituency up till 2011. The change is likely to benefit sitting TDs some of whom are native or who have previously served in this area.

There’s a small field here to date. 

Candidates:

  • Minister Michael Noonan TD (Fine Gael) – Limerick City West area
  • Deputy Kieran O’Donnell TD (Fine Gael) – Limerick City East area
  • Deputy Willie O’Dea TD (Fianna Fáil) – Limerick City North area
  • Minister Jan O’Sullivan TD (Labour) – Limerick City North area
  • Cllr. Maurice Quinlivan (Sinn Féin) – Limerick City North area
  • Cllr. Cian Prendiville (Anti Austerity Alliance) – Limerick City North area
  • Mr. James Gaffney (Green Party) – Limerick City North area
  • Ms. Sarah Jane Hennelly (Social Democrats) – Limerick City East area

In 2011 this was one of the least exciting counts – the only noteworthy matter being the substantial drop in the personal vote of Willie O’Dea.  2016 should see a closer fight particularly amongst the candidates from the left.

Like most other urban constituencies candidates’ geographic location in Limerick is less relevant than their public profile. Social division seems more relevant. The city mixes relatively well-off suburbs, bastions of Fine Gael and formerly of PD support, with some of the most socially deprived urban areas in the country where anti-establishment views are met head on by the phenomenon of the Willie O’Dea political machine.

Limerick has a colourful political history. Dessie O’Malley founded the Progressive Democrats from his Limerick stronghold and the city faithfully voted PD for 15 years even returning two seats for the now defunct party on 3 occasions.

The city also has a proud tradition of left wing politics and trade unionism even operating its own “Soviet” for a period in 1919.

The late Jim Kemmy’s Democratic Socialist Party had a big say locally in the 80s and 90s before it amalgamated with Labour. Minister Jan O’Sullivan comes from this Democratic Socialist tradition. The modern Social Democrats are a beast of a different colour entirely. 

The reigning king of Limerick politics is undoubtedly Minister for Finance Michael Noonan who’s widely admired locally as a politician who’d delivered for the city and beyond. Noonan’s stronghold is in the affluent suburbs though such is his reputation he will receive votes in every box. Despite recent ill health and advancing years he is a certainty to exceed the quota on the first count.

He’ll play a key part of the Fine Gael national campaign as the most senior and respected member of Enda Kenny’s cabinet. It appears that Noonan, like a good wine is getting better with age. 

Noonan’s running mate Kieran O’Donnell looked set for ministerial office before backing the wrong horse in the heave against Enda Kenny in 2010. His stronghold is to the north and east of the city and he will be particularly happy to regain more rural territory in the old Cappamore electoral area. While inevitably he’ll trail well behind his running mate Noonan, transfers from the old master should still see him comfortably elected.

For many years Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea was Mr. Limerick. He topped the poll four times in a row from 1992 to 2007 achieving a remarkable 37% of the vote in 2007. He is one of the few instantly recognisable members of the Fianna Fáil front bench. His insatiable appetite for constituency politics is legendary. O’Dea canvasses door to door four days a week, eleven months of the year, and holds more clinics than most family doctors. 

Fianna Fáil’s local election vote has always trailed that achieved by O’Dea in national elections. O’Dea has cultivated a huge personal vote particularly in the city housing estates, rural and working class areas. His appeal is rather less in the more affluent suburbs.

Wounds caused by the Dessie O’Malley split have left scars and to this this day there is a large relatively middle class population in Limerick who might traditionally associate with Fianna Fáil but would never vote for O’Dea. Buoyed by the return of his native Kiltealy to the constituency O’Dea will aim to top the poll again but this honour may be beyond him.

As an aside it is curious that Fiana Fáil has not been able to field a suitable second candidate, even if such a role would ultimately just be an exercise in raising profile for the next local elections or aiding the gender quota targets.

Sinn Féin’s presence has grown substantially in recent years. Their flag bearer Cllr Maurice Quinlivan first rose to national prominence when taking a defamation action against Willie O’Dea in 2009. The case was settled out of court and claims that O’Dea may have committed perjury during the case eventually led to O’Dea resigning as Minister for Defence in March 2010.

Sinn Féin’s growth rate in Limerick has been rather slower than in other urban constituencies.  This is partly due the long-time strength of other left wing parties and possibly also due to a strong anti-Sinn Féin sentiment in the city which still recalls the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe during a botched IRA bank raid almost 20 years ago.

The suffocating intensity of Willie O’Dea’s ground offensive in the city has also deprived the party of oxygen. Sinn Féin’s success in the 2014 local elections and consistent strong showing in opinion polls should put the party in the box seat to win the left wing seat in Limerick for the first time since 1923.

However with a strong anti-Sinn Féin sentiment in the city and competition from the formidable O’Dea in working class areas, it may be more difficult to take this seat than could be expected.

Minister Jan O’Sullivan has represented Limerick since the bye-election caused by the death of Jim Kemmy in March 1998.  Her appointment as Minister of Education and Skills in 2014 will have helped raise her profile but this seat is in grave danger.

In recent years the Labour General Election vote in Limerick has more or less reflected its national vote. Based on current figures this will be one of the seats lost in the election but O’Sullivan won’t give it up to Sinn Féin without a hard fight.

A bounce in party support during the course of the campaign may yet save her.

The Social Democrats are running Mayo native Sarah Jane Hennelly. Hennelly ran as an independent candidate in the 2014 elections performing admirably despite suffering two major handicaps in the university town – she was a student and a blow in. Henelly performs well on media and in person.

If the Social Democrats prosper as a political party then there will be an opportunity for it to cultivate the old PD vote in Limerick. Hennelly will perform credibly in this election but getting into the frame for a seat is probably beyond her. She’s a name to watch out for in future and this election should lay the foundations for a successful assault on a council seat in 2017 should she desire it.

There has been a long tradition of left wing politics in Limerick and the Anti Austerity Alliance’s (AAA) Cllr. Cian Prendiville has built up a solid following in recent years.  The AAA won a seat in each of the city’s three electoral wards in 2014. Prendiville may not quite get enough support to challenge for a Dáil seat on this occasion but in the battle of the left he will have an impact.

Watch out for: Opinion polls give the advantage to Sinn Féin but Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan will battle hard. The fight for the traditional “left wing seat” in Limerick will be worth watching.

Our prediction:   Noonan (Fine Gael), O’Dea (Fianna Fáil), O’Donnell (Fine Gael), O’Sullivan (Labour)

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  • Robin Keogh

    These posts are great, very informed. But i disagree here too. At the locals SF had 13% of the vote compared to labours 7%. With the exception of Limerick city west the party also did well on transfers. I think they will take that fourth seat 😉

  • Discuscutter

    Think Kieran o’Donnell will get in on Noonan’s back.

    Jan is in trouble on the ground, Labour have slipped back a lot from even 2014 and SF have really advanced.

    O’Dea will get in but his days of topping are over.

    There is at least 5k votes for SF in this constituency and about 3k for the far left.

    The PBP/AAA transfers will not be going to Labour.

    Jan is called a formidable campaigner but she has always been in at the end because there was no one left to fight for the last seat.

  • WindowLean

    Thanks for these posts S & W. Very informative and easy to follow.

  • Nordie Northsider

    The post rightly refers to the Left wing tradition in Limerick. Many of the city’s left wing figures have been antagonistic to Republicanism – Kemmy being influenced by the ‘Two Nations’ theorists of the British and Irish Communist Organization. I wonder if that’s still the case and will it have implications for transferring to SF?

  • Stadler and Waldorf

    Waldorf here – Statler and I had a bit of a disagreement on this one. I reckon O’Sullivan will lose to the Shinner. He makes the reasonable argument (for once) that a less alienating candidate for SF would take a seat. There is also a specific Church of Ireland vote in that constituency from which O’Sullivan will take a large slice. While Local Elections can provide an indicator of trends, they are not always reliable in terms of voting percentages. It’s a different contest. I wouldn’t say it’s comparing apples and oranges – maybe oranges and mandarins.

    But having said all that I still think the other old grump is going to be wrong here.