The Oireachtas by-elections: #Seanad, #DSW, #RSL

The end of this week sees three Oireachtas by-elections being completed, two for the Dáil seats vacated when Brian Hayes (FG) and Luke Flanagan (Ind) were elected as MEPs, and, the third a Seanad seat vacated by Deirdre Clune (FG), after she too was elected as an MEP. Given that the two Dáil seats are in constituencies that are re-drawn for the next general election, the result of the embarrassing #McNultygate Seanad by-election is likely to attract most comment.

Given that there are claims that many on the government benches had already voted for the Fine Gael candidate, John McNulty, there is a very distinct possibility he will be elected. The irony here is in the backstory of allegations of how cronyism and political skulduggery enabled McNulty to stand in the by-election. These allegations led to McNulty himself withdrawing his candidacy and the Taoiseach saying he didn’t vote for him and encouraging others not to do so either. There are two other candidates in the Seanad by-election, Gerard Craughwell and Catherine Seeley. Craughwell, a former TUI President who had pushed for more transparency in how the Seanad vacancy was filled and demanded a chance to stand, was nominated largely by Fianna Fáil Oireachtas members but denies that he is, effectively, a proxy candidate for the party. Seeley is the Sinn Féin candidate in the by-election and came to prominence when she had to leave her job in the Belfast Boys Model School after being targeted for sectarian abuse.

While you’d assume that, being told not to vote for McNulty, government TDs would do their political maths and be more likely to vote for Craughwell (who already has Fianna Fáil backing), that would put him in the driving seat over Seeley. However, to the Oireachtas members had already voted for McNulty, it is possible to add anyone wanting to vocalise some dissent within Fine Gael or Labour who might choose to vote for McNulty anyway and prolong the discomfort for the Taoiseach over the whole affair. Indeed, other voters, including from Fianna Fáil and the independents might decide to vote for McNulty for the same reason.

Whatever the end result, the main outcome is going to be the degree of discomfort the Taoiseach gets from either losing the Seanad seat (and overall control of the Seanad) if Craughwell or Seeley win, or the intense embarassment of what to do if McNulty is elected.

The two Dáil by-elections provide the quirk of using single transferable vote to elect a single candidate. Recent history has tended to see government candidates winning by-elections, bucking a longer term trend (see more detailed analysis here by Adrian Kavanagh). Since the Dáil arithmetic is not precarious, and the constituencies will have changed by the next general election, the results are likely to provide specific health checks for different parties (a lot of which are outlined here by Odran Flynn for RTÉ).

Basically, the candidates for Dublin South West are Cáit Keane (FG), Pamela Kearns (Lab), John Lahart (FF), Cathal King (SF), Francis Noel Duffy (Greens), Paul Murphy (Socialist Party running as an Anti-Austerity Alliance candidate), Nicky Coules (PBP) and four independents Declan Burke, Colm O’Keeffe, Tony Rochford and Ronan McMahon (a former PD). Based on the local elections, the largest vote will go to Cathal King of Sinn Féin who is likely to be elected unless transfers solidly fall in behind another candidate. Paul Murphy’s campaign team have been trying get traction with the idea that he is a serious contender even though he is not from the constituency and did particularly poorly, as an incumbent, when he lost his MEP seat earlier this year. If he is in contention, that will only be known after not just the first count, but also the rate of transfers becomes clear. Labour will be desperate for some form of good news, while Fianna Fáil are also running a candidate from outside the current constituency with an eye on the enlarged constituency at the next general election.

The other by-election, in Roscommon South Leitrim is largely a similar story. The candidates are Maura Hopkins (FG), Senator John Kelly (Lab), Ivan Connaughton (FF), Martin Kenny (SF) and six independents Emmett Corcoran, Tom Crosby, Michael Fitzmaurice (endorsed by Luke Flanagan), Des Guckian, John McDermott and Gerry O’Boyle. The bookies have it as Connaughton’s to lose after a strong Fianna Fáil result here in the local elections. But with opinion polls suggesting a stagnation in support for Fianna Fáil (also see Mick here), the strength of Fitzmaurice, Kenny and Hopkins votes, and (more significantly) where they transfer, might cause the odd nerve before the result is announced. Off the back of the latest opinion poll, failure to win the seat might put pressure on Michael Martin.

Whatever the actual outcome of the two Dáil by-elections it appears there will be two more opposition TDs but that will not, in the main, cause much more discomfort to the government. The outcome of the Seanad election is either an embarrassing McNulty win, bringing a new set of dilemmas, or the failure of the government to retain an official majority in the Seanad.

, , , , ,

  • Jag

    Great article John, informed and detailed, great stuff.

    On the Seanad, PP puts SF, Cath Seeley at 25/1 and it’s really a race between McNulty (6/4) and Craughwell (1/2). If McNulty does win, and for bizarre reasons I think he just might (because FF may want to prolong government embarrassment and there is a sense of entitlement amongst FGers that their man should get in regardless of his provenance) then, the betting is McNulty will immediately resign and there will be a new election which FG should win hands-down. It has been one of the most bizarre by elections in Irish history.

    Regarding the two by-elections, it looks like FF (or possibly an Independent) in Roscommon and SF (or possibly the socialist Paul Murphy) in DSW.

    However, when you look back at the by-elections since the Feb 2011 General Election, it is remarkable that the SFers have not made more progress. FF was wiped out and was blamed for the bailout. FG/Labour have been blamed for implementing the bailout and very painful austerity measures. Yet, if SF do win tomorrow, it will be the first victory out of six (they’re 10/1 in Roscommon and down the betting order, even behind Labour).

    Dublin west 2011 – Labour
    Meath East 2013 – FG
    Dublin West 2014 – socialist
    Meath West 2014 – FG
    Roscommon – Probably FF, possibly Independent
    Dublin South West – Probably SF, possibly socialist

    SF did respectably in DSW in 2011, with Sean Crowe taking 17% of the vote. Labour topped it and in fact took 2 of the 4 seats available. It is a left wing constituency overall. Most interesting will be if the socialists do inch it, and how Labour finishes up, I detect their slump has bottomed out.

  • John Ó Néill

    Cheers Jag. I think the single transferable vote gives the quirk to by-elections (and SF did win the previous one before your list in Donegal SW). Transfers (and tactical use of your vote) tend to have a large say. I’d guess SF would argue that it positions itself as an alternative to Lab/FG/FF and voters largely transfer inside that Lab/FG/FF block generally making single seats hard for SF to win. In that regard, Cathal King winning would be taken as a notable victory (SF picked up 28% in the constituency in the local elections which should given him a significant base in the first count). As to Roscommon/SouthLeitrim – as preferences fold across between candidates it will become clear whether Connaughton is too far ahead to catch or who, if anyone, can stack transfers up behind them to challenge him (there could be a surprise though if, eg, Hopkins polls well at Connaughtons expense).

    I think McNulty will win (partly delivered by dissidents within FG and Lab who’ll claim to have voted early).

  • Daniel Kevin Sullivan

    I thought Ronan McMahon was ex-FG?

  • John Ó Néill

    Daniel – you’re right – I think he even ran as an ‘Independent Fine Gael’ candidate before. I must have been thinking of Cait Keane (who is a former PD councillor). I was actually trying to short-hand that he wasn’t a left-wing independent but calling him a PD may have been going too far.

  • Jag

    Just in – First count Craughwell 87, mcnulty 84 Seeley 22. Seeleys votes to be distributed

    This could be veeeeeerry interesting!

    EDIT, seems Craughwell is through.

    Final edit: Craughwell 98, McNulty 85

    A line is now drawn in what was most bizarre Seanad byelection ever.
    Interesting that SF only managed 22 votes given their 14 TDs and 3 senators. That means five (presumably Independents) voted for SF – there are around 25 Independent (including reform alliance, pbb, wuag, socialists and non-affiliated). A couple in FF (am thinking O’Cuiv ) may have voted SF.

  • John Ó Néill

    Craughwell elected on second count having passed the quota.

    Seanad arithmetic is now:
    FG 18; Lab 11
    FF 14; Inds 14; SF 3

    So government holds only 29 of 60 Seanad seats. I’d guess there will be pressure put on Healy-Eames and Bradford by FG and Heffernan by Labour to get them back on board and give the government a working majority in the Seanad, now. Or either party will try to keep the independents on board.

  • Jag

    Jesus Christ on a stick, it’s looking as if the Independent Michael Fitzmaurice will take RSL (he’s Ming’s boy). Terrible development for Micheal Martin if that comes to fruition, his boy was the outfront favorite. Although FF had a good local election in May with 25% of the votes, it only won one euro seat out of 11 (and Brian Crowley subsequently jumped ship/was expelled), if there is to be a change in FF leadership, then 18 months out from an election is probably the time for it.

    In DSW, the socialist Paul Murphy is doing better than expected, 30% of first pref votes for SF who are the firm favorites but a significant 27% for Paul according to tallies of 98% of boxes [EDIT:remove reference to Tallaght]. Paul is probably more transfer friendly. Must say that SF’s Cathal King did come across as aggressive sonofabitch in past week, a week in which Paul accused SF of being linked to dirty tricks.

    Could the favorites in both constituencies lose?

    EDIT: with all DSW boxes tallied, first prefs, SF 30%, Socialist 27%. Prominent SF Eoin O’Broin saying it’s too close to call. Socialist should pick up 100% of Nicky Coules votes to bring them level with SF. This is not looking good for the SFers.

  • Jag

    Psephologist on RTE radio just now predicts Independent takes RSL and socialists take DSW.

    If it works out that way, SF will have failed to take any of six by-elections since Feb 2011, despite the implementation of austerity and more recently, a plethora of governance issues. Wowsers.

    And it looks as if Micheal Martin will face some tough questioning for failing to deliver RSL.Indications are that SF took 18-20% of 1st preferences (first announcement due shortly), up from 9.8% in 2011, so there will be relief there.

    And it looks as if the bookmakers got it wrong in both.

    Still though, the actual results haven’t been announced and both by-elections are expected to ultimately be close.

  • Croiteir

    AAA takes DSW – Both Labour and FG lost a bagful of support. FF still managed to lose support showing the electorate has no forgiveness for them. All in all a great day for independents in particular and SF less so but still good. Shows a total disconnect from the establishment parties. The voters are like a jam jar of wasps, buzzing mad and ready to sting anyone.