I’ve just been talking to Ian Parsley, who sounded a somewhat sceptical note on the effective crippling of Sean Gallagher on Frontline last Monday. It remains a great moment of television without a doubt, but Ian wonders if it was more like the Sheffield rally was for Neil Kinnock, whose stock was already on the fall by the time of his jumping the shark…
In fact, there is a slightly counter intuitive narrative doing the rounds that the effect of the attack was reason the Sinn Fein performance was capped so low, and the Gallagher vote proved robust:
…a detailed analysis of the results, show that it was a pyrrhic victory for Sinn Féin.
The attack on Gallagher was predicated on the belief that it would cause his vote to collapse and further weaken Fianna Fáil to the benefit of Sinn Féin. This did not happen as Fianna Fáil supporters, offended by the attack on a candidate who had only one degree of separation from their party, flocked to Gallagher in their hundreds of thousands.
As political commentator Johnny Fallon astutely observed when he was in the Newstalk studio with me on Friday, those supporters will not forgive Sinn Féin. Their anger had the impact of stopping the Sinn Féin advance dead in its tracks.
And what are these figures:
Sinn Féin contested 38 of the 43 Dáil constituencies last February. Comparing that performance to the same 38 constituencies last Thursday, the party only managed a net increase of 1,390 votes, or an average of a mere 37 votes a constituency. Gallagher, on the other hand, achieved a 31 per cent increase on the Fianna Fáil vote in those same 38 constituencies.
Furthermore, when the performance in the 14 constituencies where Sinn Féin had TDs elected in February is analysed, it shows that it lost more than 26,000 votes, a drop in its share of the vote of 20.6 per cent, or one-fifth.
Of the 14 constituencies, only Cork North Central improved on February, while half of them had Sinn Féin support fall by more than 2,000 votes. This compares unfavourably with Gallagher’s performance, which had him improve on the Fianna Fáil February vote by 37.2 per cent in the same group of constituencies.
Hmmm… I’d go a just little easy on that analysis, especially the bit I’ve highlighted. Not least because some of the drops are coming in constituencies that can afford the loss, and least we forget, voters are a great more fickle in Presidential elections than others.
Fianna Fail’s problem is that they had a candidate that almost (but not quite) fitted with the profile of their former voters. I suspect the biggest chill factor was, as Ian suggest, that when they saw the colour of Gallagher’s FF political petticoats, they decided not to switch from a man they suddenly realised they did not really know, to one they were a great deal more certain they did.
Thus did rural Mayo switch from rural conservatism to socialist. Fianna Fail at least have the comfort of knowing their base still wants them, or someone like them. They still have the problem of finding someone who can do that without feeling they need to hide it.
As the US columnist Peggy Noonan has noted, “sincerity and competence is a strong combination. In politics, it is everything.” Those are precisely the two holes FF must plug if it is to make good on the promise of this election.
As for Sinn Fein, their TDs might try some of what Justin O’Brien’s using for a reassuringly powerful constituency performance in the midst of what must (whatever the party says publicly) a period of gloomy disappointment.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty