GE11 preview from the south-east: Wexford

Wexford will have fourteen candidates on the ballot on 25th February. All five sitting TDs, 2 FF, 2 FG and 1 Labour, are standing again. In 2007, FF took more than 43% of the first preference vote, whilst FG took just over 31%. Of all the regions, the south-east has the third highest rate of long term unemployment (i.e. longer than one year). In the last election, FF carried 9 of the 19 seats in the region. The highest rate is in the border counties, where FF took 11 of 18 seats in 2007. The long term unemployment rate is one of the underlying metrics that will provide an interesting index to local FF collapses.

Overall the field is quite colourful. The independents include builder, vineyard owner and football manager, Mick Wallace, Ruairi de Valera, grandson of Eamon, and John Dwyer, the SF candidate in 2007 who is running as an independent, since Seamus O’Brien of People Before Profit is the United Left Alliance candidate.

The overall strategies appear simple. FG are running three candidates and hope for three seats. Assuming a significant drop in support for FF, FG would need the 41% first preference vote FF achieved in 2007, and then some. While the absence of  the now defunct PDs may help FG in that regard (they got just over 3% in 2007), a direct jump from FF to FG seems less likely than de Valera and Wallace attracting disgruntled former FF supporters. On the doorsteps, FG have been flagging up that they intend to set up one of the successful candidates as Environment Minister (the Department’s head office is in Wexford town). Whether this pulls in the additional percentage points needed for the third seat, or acts as a blatant demonstration to voters that FG value an accident of geography more highly than ability when it comes to assigning ministries. This may only be clear as transfers shift the chairs around in the latter counts.

Labour too are hoping to cash in on a drop in support for FF with a two candidate strategy. Wexford has a strong tradition of returning Labour TDs, and Howlin did top the poll on a couple of occasions in the late 1980s. However, while Labour appear to be on the verge of reaching historic heights with their first preference vote, they somehow look like they have come unstuck in recent weeks. Despite being on the threshold of a solid performance, there is the whiff of a lost opportunity as the possibility (real or otherwise) of a Labour Taoiseach has receded over the last couple of weeks. While two Labour seats in Wexford isn’t unprecedented there is a chance that Wallace will also hive off enough of the Labour vote to undermine the strength of the challenge for a second seat.

The SF candidate, Anthony Kelly isn’t expected to be in with a serious shout, despite the evidence of a reasonable platform in the relatively good showing of around 10% in the 2004 local elections, with former SF county councillor Dwyer also in the field, it is hard to make a strong case for Kelly’s chances. Presuming Kelly polls better than Dwyer and O’Brien, transfers from the latter two may allow Kelly to challenge Labour’s chances of a second seat. The repeated insistence of senior Labour figures, like Ruairi Quinn, that they were going into a coalition with Fine Gael agus sin é may impact on the level of transfers from left wing candidates.

In many ways, even with the de Valera name on the ballot, Mick Wallace is the real joker in the pack in Wexford. He may draw off support from any, or all, of the above and, even if he is not in the mix himself, he may well have significantly altered the overall drift of the result. Other than two FG seats and one Labour, it is difficult to predict the identities of the fourth and fifth TDs to be returned for Wexford in 2011. Given that FF just fell sort of a majority in 2007, FG must target 10 of the 19 seats overall in the south-east if they are to form a government on their own.

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