GE11 preview from the south-east: Carlow-Kilkenny

There are a total of 19 candidates standing in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency. Last time out 3 FF TDs were returned, one of whom (MJ Nolan) is the only one of the five sitting TDs not to stand again. In 2007, a certain amount of conservatism was evident as FF received nearly 48% of the first preference vote, while FG got nearly 29% (both above average). That was slightly balanced by the election of Mary White, the only Green TD returned by a largely rural constituency. FG’s vote management strategy, as such, in 2007 was pretty disastrous as only 1 TD was returned off almost two quotas.

This time out, both FF and FG have gone for three-candidate strategies, FG dreaming of that elusive single party government, FF in the hope of holding two seats. Apart from their two sitting TDs, around Carlow the posters for FF’s third candidate, Cllr Jennifer Murnane O’Connor, are obviously believed to have appeal for a certain demographic. The posters show a cropped-back, close-up, full facial image which practically invades your personal space as you look at it. Where they feature on posters, the other candidates are slightly further from the camera and generally include their upper torso (see a selection here). While candidate imagery isn’t something we dwell on much, it surely contributes to the overall impression. Ironically, the FG team photo for the constituency has sitting TD, Phil Hogan, uncomfortably shoe-horned in between the two other candidates (Senator John Paul Phelan and Cllr Phil Deering). Perhaps there is something Freudian here in trying to squeeze three FGers into this one picture. Another episode of inept vote management here would be terminal for FG’s current ambitions.

Two FG TDs does seem to be a foregone conclusion. If FF can hold two seats, a third FG seat seems unlikely, although the catastrophe of FF returning with only one TD would likely be compounded by seeing 3 FG TDs representing the constituency in the Dáil. Mary White is almost certain to lose out but there appear to be enough votes outside of FG and FF for the fifth seat to go elsewhere. There has almost always been a Labour seat here, but since the retirement of Seamus Pattinson before the 2007 election there hasn’t been enough evidence to decide whether his vote had become personal rather than party. Presumably Labour will perform better than their 9% in 2007, but a lot depends on where disgruntled FF votes go. SF are running two candidates, Kilkenny-based Kathleen Funchion and Carlow-based John Cassin. As, even more than in Kilkenny, Carlow votes tend to stay with Carlow candidates, both SF and Labour will be hoping that local first preference, plus transfers and some disgruntled FF votes keep them in the hunt for a seat. None of the independents appear likely to make a significant impact here.

The general expectation is that Kilkenny-based John McGuinness (FF) and Phil Hogan (FG) get back in safely and will be joined by Phil Deering (FG) from Carlow. The next two seats will be decided by the peculiarities of this election – the alignment of disaffected FF voters, the strength of the FG surge and transfer patterns. While Labour could well get a seat back, Mary White and one of the SF candidates may well be in the running in the latter counts, although Bobby Aylward (FF) and John Paul Phelan (FG) will definitely survive at least that far.

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