The Carlow Kilkenny by-election has shown that Sinn Fein’s traditional transfer toxicity might be a thing of the past. Personally I had a great weekend. I burst out of my closet 27 years ago at the tender age of 19 and landed in a very cold room for gays in the conservative Ireland of 1987. Over the last 27 years I have witnessed a phenomenal social revolution with the LGBT community becoming the most recent beneficiaries. However, I must admit my focus last Friday was not so much fixed on the referendum (I was pretty confident it would pass), I was far more concerned with how Kathleen Funchion would perform for Sinn Fein in the by-election.
Carlow/Kilkenny is not natural Shinner territory, in fact it is quite solidly hooked onto the traditional power parties of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour. At the 2011 general election these parties took 77% of the popular vote, Fianna Fail who at the time was getting battered up and down the country, still managed to win 28% while Sinn Fein scored just 9.5%. Until the local council elections of 2014, there had been no Sinn Fein elected representative in the area for almost one hundred years.
The great thing about a PR election, especially in a five seater like Carlow/Kilkenny, it is quite possible to take a seat with just about 12% of the vote and a favourable transfer pattern. This has traditionally been a problem area for Sinn Fein. Despite the rise in popularity of the party, transfers have been a huge stumbling block when it comes to snatching that last seat. With an eye on next year’s Dail elections, I figured a 15% showing in the by-election would do two things. Firstly, it would put us in a strong position at the top of the list on first preference votes and secondly, it would reduce the likelihood of an overdependence on transfers, assuming support might hold at that level for another twelve months. I was also concerned that the recent concerted media smear campaign against Sinn Fein would resonate deeply with an electorate that is overwhelmingly rural and traditionally conservative. (44% voted against the equal marriage proposal)
The result in the end was a 16.2% share of the vote for Sinn Fein. Only a smidge over the 15% mark I had hoped for so I was far from ecstatic – that was until I studied the transfer pattern. Excluding non-transferable votes; on the second count Sinn Fein picked up 14% of available transfer from independents; count 3 – 25% from independent, count 4 – 33% from people People Before Profit (bodes well for possibilities in the North) , count 5 – 22% from The Green party, count 6 – 24% from The Labour Party, count 7 – 10% from Renua. On the final count Sinn Fein had added 5,631 votes to a first preference tally of 10,806 ending up on 16,437 or 28.2% of the final top three total. On these numbers and barring a complete disaster between now and next May, Sinn Fein are assured a seat in Carlow/Kilkenny. Moreover, if a similar pattern is repeated across the country particularly in areas that are not traditional Shinner terrain, the party could see a TD elected in every constituency in the country. Not only has Sinn Fein’s core vote almost doubled in less than five years, it appears the problem of transfer toxicity is now a thing of the past. Bualadh Bos Sinn Fein.
Robin Keogh is from dublin but now lives in South Wicklow. He has just completed a four year international BA in politics with University College Dublin and University of California Santa Cruz. He recently became a member of South Wicklow Sinn Fein however his view are his own and not necessarily representative of the party.