#GE16 Laois: A week out from close of nominations, this looks like an ‘as you were’…

GE16 LaoisLaois

Current TDs 

(The following were the Laois representatives elected in the Laois – Offaly constituency in 2011):

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan TD (Fine Gael), Sean Fleming TD (Fianna Fáil) Brian Stanley TD (Sinn Féin)

Total seats in 2016 General Election: 3

Main areas:

  • Portlaoise – population 20,145
  • Portarlington – population 7,788
  • Mountmellick – population 4,735
  • Monasterevin (Co. Kildare) – population 3,710
  • Abbeyleix – population 1,827
  • Mountrath – population 1,661

The constituency redraw has divided the old five seat Laois – Offaly constituency and created two new three seat constituencies. This constituency now consists of the county of Laois with an additional population of 7,000 people from around the Monasterevin area in South Kildare. While Laois is a strongly rural constituency, one third of the population live in and around the town of Portlaoise and many people commute to Dublin every day work.

There’s a small field declared here. 

Candidates:

  • Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan TD, Fine Gael (Borris-in-Ossery/ Mountmellick area)
  • Thomasina Connell, Fine Gael (Graiguecullen/ Portarlington area)
  • Sean Fleming TD, Fianna Fáil (Graiguecullen/ Portarlington area)
  • Senator John Whelan, Labour (Portlaoise area)
  • Brian Stanley TD, Sinn Féin (Portlaoise area)
  • Sinead Moore, Green Party (Mulhuddart, Co. Dublin)

Most elections are won and lost in the white heat of campaigning door to door, over airwaves and in the media. Sometimes all the incumbent politicians, popular and having strong records of delivering for their constituents are all but assured of election before a single poster is erected. Almost never, are election strategies hatched in committee rooms responsible for ordaining the outcome of an election.

However this constituency may be a rare, though admittedly inadvertent, example of this phenomenon.

There are six candidates declared in the new Laois constituency to date, and after all the votes are counted in election 2016  both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are likely to regret that they haven’t made a better effort to source a higher profile second candidate. Even an ambitious and high profile independent could have made inroads. As things stand, it appears that three of the declared candidates are head and shoulders ahead of the rest.

For many years the old Laois Offaly constituency could be relied on to return 3 Fianna Fáil TDs and more often than not 2 Fine Gael ones. In the last 30 years before the last election there were only 2 changes to that setup.  One was to accommodate the brief political career of the high profile farm leader, Tom Parlon representing the Progressive Democrats.  The second was when Pat Gallagher was elected as part of Labour’s ‘Spring Tide’. 

There was another change in 2011 when Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley took a seat. In the most recent local elections 2 out of 3 voters in the county voted for either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

Fianna Fáil originally selected two candidates, however Councillor Catherine Fitzgerald subsequently withdrew leaving Deputy Sean Fleming all alone. Fleming, from the rural south east of the constituency will be comfortably elected for his fifth term.  Even on Fianna Fáil’s worst day the party will expect to get comfortably more than 25% of the votes – which is enough to pass the quota on the first count.

Fianna Fáil has struggled to develop a presence in Portlaoise Town in recent years and this lack of organisational effort is now impacting on the party’s ability to target an eminently achievable second seat.

Fine Gael have outgoing Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan as its TD in the area. Flanagan is another TD with over 20 years Dáil experience who should accumulate a quota on the first count. At least, Fine Gael have managed to find a running mate for the Minister. They’ve selected a newcomer, solicitor Thomasina Carroll.

Connell from the eastern part of the county was added to the election ticket last November amid suggestions that Fine Gael were adding weak female candidates mainly to comply with gender equality requirements. There has been little to suggest that Connell, who has spent much of her professional career in Dublin and Wicklow, is considered as a strong challenger for a seat.

Indeed, such is her low profile that Fine Gael haven’t even remembered to include her profile on their party website candidate page.

Given the traditional support levels enjoyed in this area by the historically dominant parties and the small field contesting this constituency, the lack of ambition in supporting serious running mates for their main candidates surely represents an opportunity lost for one of these parties to gain a second seat.

Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley is the likely beneficiary of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s conservative strategies. Stanley has not been a high profile TD nationally for the past five years. He was the fourth TD elected in the old 5 seat constituency with just 10.5% first preference votes.

In the most recent local election Sinn Féin in Laois secured just 2 county council seats with less than 13% of the vote. Sinn Féin has traditionally been stronger in Offaly, where it secured 17% in the locals. 

In the old 5 seat constituency Stanley benefitted from a basic Sinn Féin core vote across both counties. To get elected in a 3 seater the quota is 25% and in a five seat constituency 17%. Doubling their vote in 18 months is a difficult target to achieve, even with the progress Sinn Féin has made in recent times.

However Stanley has two major factors in his favour. Firstly he is the most established candidate in Portlaoise. This town and its environs should comfortably elect at least one TD. Long gone are the days then most of the Republicans in Portlaoise were locked up in the prison there.

These days the party has developed a strong record of community representation in the town ahead of the other main parties who have not been as visible in the urban areas. Second he is an incumbent TD with a good local profile and has worked on the ground the past five years.

All else being equal the sitting TD usually gets re-elected.

The only credible challenger to Sinn Féin at the moment is Labour Senator John Whelan. Whelan is a former newspaper editor in the area.  He was educated in Monasterevin and will benefit from this part of South Kildare with a solid Labour tradition moving into his constituency.  Whelan was a late convert to Labour politics.

He was parachuted into the party prior to the 2011 election much to the anger of local activists. While he performed reasonably well on that occasion he did not come close to taking a seat that should have been available following Fianna Fáil’s decline.

The ‘Gilmore Gale’ of 2011 never materialised in this constituency and unless Labour pick up significant momentum in the course of this election campaign, Whelan will not be able to catch Deputy Stanley even if a sizable number of voters in a conservative, rural constituency may wish to deny Sinn Féin the seat. 

Watch out for:  There’s a week for a celebrity candidate to parachute in before the close of nominations. Otherwise this constituency is likely to be done and dusted before a vote is cast.

Our Prediction:   Fleming (Fianna Fáil) Flanagan( Fine Gael) and Stanley (Sinn Féin)

Statler and Waldorf are two former political party muppets who have 30 years’ experience in Irish politics.  They now specialise in providing analysis from the sidelines.

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