That was then…
It’s 2004 and Gerry Adams is the most popular leader in the country. Mary Lou McDonald is after winning a seat in The European Parliament, Pearse Doherty narrowly misses out after polling 15.5% in the North West, John Dwyer polls almost 9% in East. On the same day the Local elections deliver more good news as Sinn Féin more than doubled their seats to 54 (an increase of 33 seats to be precise). Nationwide they now have council seats to position themselves for the next General Election…
The growth seemed unstoppable. The ‘Project’ was on track. In Dublin where they already had two TDs in Sean Crowe and Aengus Ó Snodaigh, the prospects of Larry O’Toole, Dessie Ellis and Nicky Kehoe now looked very real. Daithi Doolan prospects were being talked up too. Elsewhere it was assumed Arthur Morgan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Martin Ferris would be returned. In Donegal Pearse Doherty and Padraig MacLochlainn looked decent bets. Gains in Meath, Sligo -North Leitrim, Cork, Wexford and Waterford were also predicted. Indeed 2 days before the election, political pundits Ivan Yates and Noel Whelan had Sinn Féin winning 11 and 9 seats respectively. Enthusiastic supporters talked of 15 seats and overtaking Labour at the following election as the inevitable march of Sinn Féin continued on.…
This is now…
When the votes were counted Sinn Fein had won just 4 seats as Sean Crowe had lost his seat in Dublin South West. In 2009 they lost their European Parliament seat in Dublin and their vote fell to 9.19% in North East. On the plus side Toireasa Ferris polled well in South and in Leinster Kathleen Funchion and Thomas Sharkey increased the party vote to over 11%. In the Local elections they won the same number of seats as they did in 2004.
So looking at those elections and some recent polls what are their prospects in the next General Election?
Currently they have 4 TDs, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Arthur Morgan, Martin Ferris and Aengus Ó Snodaigh. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin in Cavan-Monaghan and Arthur Morgan in Louth should both be safe.
Martin Ferris will be under pressure to hold his seat between a resurgent Labour Party and the inclusion of parts of West Limerick after the Constituency boundary review. In the Local Elections Sinn Féin did well in North Kerry and took a few hundred votes in West Limerick. The performance of
Toireasa Ferris in both the Local and European Elections would point at a better chance of holding the seat were she to run.
In 2007 Aengus Ó Snodaigh narrowly scraped in (by 69 votes from Labours Eric Byrne). Since then the Sinn Fein vote dropped in the Local Elections (and one of the councillors elected Louise Minihan has since left the party) and the People Before Profit vote increased. Labour were close to winning two seats the last time and if the polls are to be believed then 2 seats must surely be on the cards here. Fianna Fáil will lose at least 1 TD, so Ó Snodaigh will be battling it out with People Before Profit’s Joan Collins for the final seat (That’s unless the FF vote totally collapses). If Labour were to have surplus votes they are more likely to go to Collins than Sinn Fein, Similarly for any surplus Fine Gael votes (although in less numbers).
Sean Crowes loss in Dublin South West was one of the shocks of the 2007 Election. There were a number of factors to the loss, one being the partys (or one party councillors) stance on Tallaght Stadium which was rumoured to have been one of the causes for a split locally. (I’ve a theory too that Crowe lost votes due to population change. Where there was an exodus from Tallaght to parts of Kildare are further afield, where a lot of people sold up and moved down to new estates in the country. Similar happened in the Blanchardstown area where there was a small exodus to Navan and even as far as Cavan.) Crowe though has been expected to win his seat back in Dublin South West, with either Charlie O’Connor or Conor Lenihan losing out. In the 2009 Local Elections Labour got over double the Sinn Fein vote in the two Tallaght wards. With five councillors in these two Tallaght wards, Labour have a raft of decent running mates for Pat Rabbitte. Good vote management here and Labour should win a second seat which may make it hard for Crowe. There are also growing signs that the area has a dissident Republican element which presumably would have previously voted for Crowe. Hard to see any other possibilities on the Southside bar maybe Dublin Mid West. Elsewhere in Dublin, a previous target Dublin Central will have been made harder by the defection of Christy Burke. There will be at least one Fianna Fail seat lost there, but Pascal Donohoe looks the front runner for that. Fianna Fail look set to lose a seat in Dublin North West with Bill Tormey the likely beneficiary. The vote of Dessie Ellis dropped between the 2002 and 2007 General Elections and also the Sinn Fein vote in his area dropped between the 2004 and 2009 Local Elections so unless the Sinn Fein vote increases considerably Dessie wont win the seat. In Dublin North East Larry O’Toole did increase his vote between 2002 and 2007 but the Sinn Fein vote fell back between the 2004 and 2009 Local Elections. (If I were a Sinn Fein strategist I’d have Mary Lou McDonald standing in either Dublin North West or Dublin North East. I’d also be tearing my hair out trying to find somewhere, other than Dun Laoghaire, the talented Eoin O’Broin could make a foothold for a council and Dail seat).
Possible gains outside of Dublin….
As has been the case for a while the two Donegal’s could return Pearse Doherty and Padraig MacLochlainn. At least one should get in, given the unpopularity of Fianna Fail. These constituencies have form though in electing Independents. Independent is the route that many fed up Fianna Fail voters prefer to go. I don’t think Labour can win either seat although stranger things have happened. After that though Sean McManus would have a chance in Sligo-North Leitrim and maybe Jonathan O’Brien has an outside prospect in Cork North Central and that’s it.
On a bad day Sinn Fein could end up with 2 seats on a very good day 8 seats. If Labour continue to be as attractive to voters as the polls suggest, I think they will do well to return with 4 seats as Ferris, Ó Snodaigh and Crowe will be directly impacted by Labours increase in votes.