GE11 preview from the south-east: Wicklow

I’m going to try and fit in previews of the unfashionable constituencies in the south-east for the general election (you will barely spot them, or the candidates, in the headline debates). Nineteen of the one hundred and sixty-five Dáil seats are located in four constituencies covering five counties.

One constituency where the strengths and weaknesses of the various political groupings are going to be writ large is Wicklow, which I’ll deal with first. A five-seater, it returned 2 FF, 2 FG and 1 Labour in 2007. Four of the sitting TDs are standing again, with only Liz McManus of Labour retiring. However, one of the FF TDs, Joe Behan, left the party over the 2009 budget, but was never exactly an active opponent of the coalition. Behan is one of 14 independents running in Wicklow in the election.

In the last twenty years, a quota was reached on the first count only once (by Dick Roche, sitting FF TD). With 2 FF candidates (plus Behan), 3 FG, 1 SF, 1 Green, 3 Labour (plus Labour county councillor Nicky Kelly running as a disgruntled independent having been overlooked for selection), a total of 24 names will be on the ballot paper. Transfers and vote discipline are going to be even more crucial in this constituency, although, superficially, the distribution of posters for the various parties suggest that dividing up the county for individual candidates is mostly being observed in the breach.

Tactically, somebody has to have got it badly wrong here. The FF and FG vote share in Wicklow was similar to the overall electoral performance in 2007, so FF running two candidates (Roche and Fitzgerald) with Behan in the field looks suspect. Both FF candidates being returned would be dreamland after the last few months, both losing out to Behan would signify electoral disaster. Dick Roche’s posters appear to attracting a significant amount of IMF/Traitor vandalism. Todays Irish Times is suggesting that Roche losing his seat would be the Portillo moment of GE11. Pat Fitzgerald’s flyers say something like “not the problem, part of the solution” which is probably irony, rather than vandalism.

Presuming woeful vote management and the large field of independents don’t create havoc, FG may well be safe for two seats, while a third seat in Wicklow would be an indicator of them being within tasting distance of single party government. Labour’s own three candidate strategy looked risky anyway, as there had ominously been considerable internal strain over the attempted selection of Ronan McManus. That Nicky Kelly is now also running, and again, with some areas carrying posters for all three Labour candidates with no direction towards 1st, 2nd or 3rd preferences, Labour will need considerable luck to stack up sufficient votes and transfers to take home  two seats. Tom Fortune, an amiable and hard working veteran councillor, may well take the only Labour seat.

Despite strong showings in the past, it is hard to tell what scale of vote the Greens will attract. Similarly, it is hard to gauge SF’s potential, although it’s candidate, county councillor John Brady, has a strong profile locally. Typically support from the Bray-Greystones end of the constituency is enough to return 3 TDs. Brady, based in Bray, may benefit from a backlash against Dick Roche and Labour uncertainty. If he survives to the later counts it will be a sign of SF having a good day.

For all the candidates in Wicklow, a significant payload of first preference votes will be necessary to stay in orbit for the latter counts. With a large field, including so many independents, any candidate holding 10% or more at the outset may survive long enough to be in with a genuine chance of election. While 11 or 12 of the independents will lose out on the first couple of counts, they could well have accumulated 10-15% of the vote whose distribution is hard to predict. At the business end of the counts, after potentially heavy erosion of transfers down a long ticket, the final seat or two could well be elected sub-quota with the elimination of the sixth placed candidate at that stage.

Whatever the result, Wicklow may well be a reasonable guide of the overall performance of the parties in the 2011 election.

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