#GE16 Wicklow – Sinn Féin to power through one of Ireland’s more motley fields…

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 17.19.39Wicklow

Current TDs

Stephen Donnelly TD (Social Democrats), Anne Ferris TD (Labour), Billy Timmins TD (Renua), Minister of State, Simon Harris TD (Fine Gael), Andrew Doyle (Fine Gael)

Total seats in 2016 General Election: 5

This constituency remains unchanged by the most recent review and consists of the county of Wicklow and a couple of thousand people from east Carlow around the villages of Hackettstown and Rathvilly.

Main Areas:

  • Bray – population 31,872
  • Greystones – population 17,468
  • Arklow – population 13,009
  • Wicklow – population 10,356
  • Blessington – population 5,010
  • Kilcoole – population 4,049
  • Rathnew – population 2,964
  • Newtownmountkennedy – population 2,410
  • Baltinglass – population 2,061
  • Enniskerry – population 1,811


  • Cllr. Steven Matthews, Green Party (Bray area)
  • Cllr. Joe Behan, Independent (Bray area)
  • Stephen Donnelly TD, Social Democrats (Bray area)
  • Cllr. John Brady, Sinn Féin (Bray area)
  • Sharon Briggs, People Before Profit Alliance (Bray area)
  • Anne Ferris TD, Labour (Bray area)
  • Billy Timmins TD, Renua* (Baltinglass area – *Elected as a Fine Gael TD in 2011)
  • Avril Cronin, Fine Gael (Baltinglass area)
  • Minister of State, Simon Harris TD, Fine Gael (Greystones area)
  • Cllr. Jennifer Cuffe, Fianna Fáil  (Greystones area** – Elected as Councillor in Dun Laoghaire- Rathdown)
  • Cllr. Pat Casey, Fianna Fáil (Wicklow area)
  • Charlie Keddy, Independent (Greystones area)
  • Andrew Doyle, Fine Gael (Wicklow area)
  • Anna Doyle, People Before Profit Alliance (Wicklow area)
  • Bob Kearns, Independent (Wicklow area)

Despite the large number of candidates it’s clear that many of the declared field have little prospect of success. In such a diverse constituency getting into the frame in the early counts will be vital.

The Wicklow constituency is strongly influenced by the county’s geography and demography. The north east of the constituency is a suburb of Dublin. Bray and Greystones have seen massive population growth in the past two decades. These urban areas and their surrounding population dominate the less densely populated remainder of the constituency and will be expected to provide three of the five TDs.

The rest of the county has different characteristics with more rural influences.  While many people still commute to Dublin daily for work the mid, west and south Wicklow areas retain their own independent identities. 

The Wicklow Mountains form an effective barrier between the suburban east and rural west of the county.  While geographically disconnected from the rest of the county the communities to the west of the mountains and now including east Carlow have tended to rally behind a local candidate to ensure that area has maintained Dáil representation for most of the past 40 years

People from south Wicklow often bemoan the lack of a TD for this area.  Arklow which is the third largest town in the county, has not enjoyed the patronage of a local TD since the mid 1980s. In recent years Fianna Fáil and Labour tried to harness support by running candidates from this area but fell just short.

On this occasion there are no strong candidates standing from the south. South Wicklow was a stronghold for Fianna Fáil in the 2014 Local Elections and they may suffer most if turnout is lower in the south due to the lack of local options.

Fine Gael won 3 seats in 2011 with 40% of the first preference vote. Since then Billy Timmons has left Fine Gael to establish Renua with Lucinda Creighton and he has been replaced on the ticket by Avril Cronin a first time candidate, who works as a parliamentary advisor in Leinster House. Cronin, who is based in Baltinglass, may lack the resources and profile to make an impact on this election.

Simon Harris from Greystones has been a star of the Fine Gael party in recent years. A strong performance in the 2014 European Election was rewarded with the prestigious position of Minister for State in the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Office of Public Works. He is a regular contributor on national media and is an able defender of the Government’s policies. 

Seen by many as destined for a senior ministry, Harris is likely to top the poll on this occasion.  Fine Gael’s second candidate Andrew Doyle has a strong support base in mid Wicklow, particularly amongst the agricultural community. While he topped the poll in 2011, his profile nationally is not high. There must be some concern at the potential impact if Harris dominates the Fine Gael vote.

If Doyle is far behind him on first count he may leave the door open to a challenge from a Fianna Fáil candidate. Harris is likely to be far more transfer friendly in later counts also.

In 2011 Sinn Féin’s Cllr. John Brady was narrowly eliminated on the last count eventually losing by less than 120 votes. Brady has developed a strong presence in Bray over the past decade. Sinn Féin had a very good local elections in the county with 6 councillors elected and are particularly strong in Bray, Wicklow Town and in Blessington.

The party’s support in the constituency has been in a continuous upward trajectory in line with national support. All evidence points to this trend continuing and Brady being comfortably elected to the 32nd Dáil, probably gaining the second highest number of first preference votes.

Following his election in 2011 Stephen Donnelly quickly became one of the country’s most high profile independent TDs. With a professional background as a management consultant with the McKinsey group he speaks knowledgeably on economic matters while also never losing sight of the importance of strong communities and social responsibility.

He ran an extremely slick campaign in 2011 and with his credentials now established in the constituency he should poll extremely well again this time. In the past five years has been courted by all the mainstream parties and it was something of a surprise when he announced his intention to establish the Social Democrats party with fellow TDs Roisin Shortall and Catherine Murphy. 

While the overall success of this venture cannot yet be determined it’s likely that he will benefit from the demise of Labour to be comfortable elected.

The competition for the final two seats will be intense. Geography would indicate that on balance these should be filled by candidates from outside of Bray and Greystones but with Brady and to a lesser extent Donnelly likely to attract support across the county, there should still be enough residual vote in the north for candidates from that area to remain in the race until late in the day.

Fianna Fáil have opted for a two candidate strategy. Cllr. Pat Casey, a hotelier from Glendalough in mid-Wicklow is joined by Cllr. Jennifer Cuffe who is based in Greystones. Cuffe is also an elected member of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in Dublin. For many years Fianna Fáil held multiple seats in this constituency and with the party support in the local elections restored to 19% they must hope to be in the hunt here.

Cuffe is endeavouring to run a high octane campaign with much support from her party’s HQ.  However it’s hard to see how as a blow-in she will be able to make an impact in a new constituency in such a short space of time. Competition in the north of the constituency is particularly cut-throat. 

Casey, an established councillor first elected as an independent, faces less competition in his part of the county but he has a rural base and may struggle to gain vital support in the urban areas in his own patch including Wicklow and Arklow towns.

Splitting the vote when chasing just one seat can be a dangerous game especially when there is no one candidate with enough profile and appeal to draw votes and transfers from across the constituency. 

Whichever of the Fianna Fáil candidates is in the shakeup for the final seat will need to attract significant transfers from their running mate and also from the elimination of Joe Behan. On paper Cuffe may appear more transfer friendly but she is unlikely to be ahead of Casey on first preferences.

A final negative for Fianna Fáil is that their organisation in Wicklow has seen much internal bickering over the years. There are at least 3 independent councillors in the constituency with strong Fianna Fáil connections. A united front will be required for Fianna Fáil to retake a seat here and it remains doubtful whether the desire to do this exists.

Joe Behan is an example of an independent candidate with Fianna Fáil links. This former Fianna Fáil TD from Bray should not be written off lightly. Behan left Fianna Fáil in protest at the 2009 budget adopting an independent stance from then on. Behan performed reasonably well in the 2011 election however he was stymied by the momentum behind newcomer Stephen Donnelly.

There is undoubtedly an appetite for independents in Wicklow. Behan received a very good vote in the 2014 Local Elections. However, it will prove difficult for Behan to stay ahead of both of the Fianna Fáil candidate and get into the frame at the business end of the count. If Stephen Donnelly is already elected before Behan is eliminated then his transfers could have a major say on the destination of the final seat.

Anne Ferris was elected as a Labour Party TD in 2011 following the retirement of Liz McManus. Labour ran three candidates in that election, achieving 19% of the vote with Ferris being comfortably ahead of her running mates. The party in Wicklow was annihilated in in the 2009 Local Elections with their vote dropping to less than 4%. 

Even though some recovery in support is likely, Ferris will struggle to hold a seat. In the event of her elimination it’s likely that many of her transfers will go to aid the election of the three main players if they are short of the quota. She may not impact the battle for the final seats too much.

The final outgoing TD in Wicklow is Billy Timmons who has served the people of west Wicklow since 1997. He was expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party for voting against the “Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill” in 2013. He is now deputy leader of Renua. Timmons has always been willing to speak his own mind on issues.

He draws a strongly personal vote from west Wicklow which is likely to be quite blind to his party affiliation. Timmins is a member of the Church of Ireland which is likely to be to his benefit in a county with the highest percentage population of this faith (nearly 7%) in the Republic. It’s likely that Timmons’ personal vote will see him into the frame on the first count and he has every chance of hanging on to retain his seat.

The other candidates who have declared are unlikely to come close to the main players and their transfers upon elimination are unlikely to materially affect the outcome. In reality with so many candidates on the ballot paper the top five on first preferences are likely to take the seats as transfers scatter everywhere.

Watch out for:   Could an imbalance in the Fine Gael ranks allow a Fianna Fáil candidate to slip in between them? Will Timmons be able to hold his loyal local vote now that he is no longer in Fine Gael?

Our prediction:   Harris (Fine Gael), Brady (Sinn Féin), Donnelly (Social Democrats), Doyle (Fine Gael) and Timmons (Renua)

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