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Prediction: European Parliament election 2014 (Irish seats)

22 January, 2014 Leave a comment

The European elections will be held on redrawn constituencies as Ireland will lose a seat, so that we have 11 rather than 12. Dublin remained as it ever has, with the rest of the state divided with line midway across, such that we in Bray share a constituency with Kerry and Limerick, and everything to our south.

We’re in the midst of candidate selection, and some of this is based on speculation, but this is my current prediction:

Dublin (3): Brian Hayes (FG), Lynn Boylan (SF), Emer Costello (Lab)

North-West–Midlands (4): Mairead McGuinness (FG), Pat The Cope Gallagher (FF), Matt Carthy (SF), Marian Harkin (Ind)

South (4): Seán Kelly (FG), Brian Crowley (FF), Liadh Ní Riada (SF), John Bryan (FG)

This would leave party totals as:
Fine Gael 4 (no change)
Sinn Féin 3 (+3)
Fianna Fáil 2 (–1)
Labour 1 (–2)
Independent 1 (no change)
Socialist Party 0 (–1)

Or in terms of European Parliament groups:
European People’s Party 4 (no change)
European United Left/Nordic Green Left 3 (+2)
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe 3 (–1)
Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats 1 (–2)

A lot could change, of course, but at the moment, the one of these above I’d be least confident about is the third seat in Dublin. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that go to Fianna Fáil, who select their candidate on Sunday. They are choosing between Tiernan Brady, Geraldine Feeney, and Cllr Mary Fitzpatrick. I know Tiernan Brady, who was formerly a Donegal councillor, and has worked for a number of years with GLEN (the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network), and would be quite happy to see him take that third seat. Mary Fitzpatrick was clearly sidelined by Bertie Ahern in 2007, and so might be seen by voters as a break with the old leadership.

At the moment though, I think sitting Labour’s MEP Emer Costello will hold. She was co-opted in 2012 to the seat won by Proinsias De Rossa. A recent poll showed Labour and Fianna Fáil tied at 14% in Dublin. While Labour will not be as transfer-friendly, the votes of eliminated candidates on the left should benefit them over Fianna Fáil. If the other regions become lost causes, Labour will likely concentrate all their efforts in Dublin, which could help her over.

I’m also working from the assumption that Paul Murphy, who replaced Joe Higgins as the Socialist Party MEP in 2011, will not hold, particularly as he faces a challenge from People Before Profit Cllr Bríd Smith for the far-left vote and organisation. While Joe Higgins had a force of character and presence to win the third seat in 2009, Murphy won’t have the same advantage. He also received a lot of support from those who wanted to keep Fianna Fáil out of the third seat then, and who weren’t going to vote for Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald. Paul Murphy has been visible since his co-option, but I don’t think it will be enough to be competitive against the larger parties’ organisation.

Elsewhere, I don’t think Jim Higgins will hold up against the strong field, but I think he would do as well or better than another Fine Gael candidate. Short of a strong new force or candidate, the results in South and North-West–Midlands seem straightforward from here.

Overall, these results would be a solid election for Fine Gael, which has been the largest at a European level since 2004; a very good election for Sinn Féin; Labour would be back to their traditional place of usually having just the one in Dublin; and somewhat disappointing for Fianna Fáil.

However, European elections are of a different sort. If we want to see how party support and organisation is ahead of the general in 2015 or 2016, the locals will be where to look towards.

Same again, but more so, in Northern Ireland

8 May, 2011 1 comment

An election where no party’s total differed by more than two seats from last time. The DUP and Sinn Féin consolidated further their leads against the UUP and the SDLP respectively. And elections are very much still in these terms, as the table below shows. It shows too that the movement between communities in seat totals is far less sharp than if seen through the first past the post Westminster elections. MLAs are required to designate as Unionist, Nationalist or Other on the Assembly’s register, and votes require a support by qualified majority of both Unionists and Nationalists. This does create a systematic bias against Others, which is perhaps balanced by the Minister for Justice being decided by a full vote on a cross-community basis of the Assembly, rather than through d’Hondt, in effect a guaranteed Minister for the Alliance Party. Even without different rules, however, I’d still expect voting to be along community lines at this stage.

Year Unionist Nationalist Other
1998 58

28 UUP
20 DUP
5 UKUP
2 PUP
3 Ind

42

24 SDLP
18 SF

8

6 Alliance
2 NIWC

2003 59

30 DUP
27 UUP
1 PUP
1 UKUP

42

24 SF
18 SDLP

7

6 Alliance
1 Ind

2007 55

36 DUP
18 UUP
1 PUP

44

28 SF
16 SDLP

9

7 Alliance
1 Green
1 Ind

2011 56

38 DUP
16 UUP
1 TUV
1 Ind

43

29 SF
14 SDLP

9

8 Alliance
1 Green

There really is no better analyst on Northern Ireland elections than Nicholas Whyte, son of historian John Whyte, so check out his blog and site. Slugger O’Toole is good too. But rather than just present a neat table, I might as well add a few thoughts of my own. Read more…

Where are the Adams posters?

14 February, 2011 Leave a comment

In elections since 1997, we have had the unusual feature of seeing posters for someone not standing in the election in any constituency, as Gerry Adams appeared on leader posters. This year, though he is contesting the election in Louth, I haven’t seen any of these posters. Perhaps I’ve just missed them.

But beyond that, I really don’t understand the Sinn Féin decision to run Adams in Louth. He came off badly in the Mini Leaders’ Debate in 2007, when Michael McDowell brought him down in a kamikaze mission, and doesn’t seem to have improved greatly in his knowledge of politics outside of Northern Ireland:

Maybe he just felt left out, as Martin McGuinness was getting all the attention as Deputy First Minister. And he probably wants to be in the Dáil in 2016. But perhaps it is now time for him to retire from politics, having brought his party into the Northern Executive. I would not expect Sinn Féin to take advice from me, but I think they may wonder how wise they were to arrange this. He is considered to have less integrity than McGuinness because of his continued denial of his IRA membership, even though it was leaked and widely known that in 2005 that Adams, McGuinness and Martin Ferris had resigned from the IRA Army Council. He will be parliamentary party leader, but over five years, he could be displaced in the public eye by younger bloods like Pearse Doherty or Eoin Ó Broin, a candidate in Dublin Mid-West. Both these men are surely ambitious for a greater role within their party, and will feel the prominence of Adams an obstacle for them.

Adams may come to regret all the fuss necessitated by his resignation as MP for West Belfast when he assumed the role of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

Not a Baron though. I’d have thought David Cameron would understand the peerage better than to have made that mistake in Prime Minister’s Questions. It’s not that easy to become part of the nobility. Adams’s title is much closer to that of groundskeeper.

Wave elections in Ireland

17 January, 2011 Leave a comment

In the past 150 years, there have been three significant wave elections in Ireland, which featured a significant change in the rank order of political parties since the previous election and a medium- to long-term change in the party system. We are now facing into the fourth.

1874 (and 1885) – Home Rule replaces Liberals

1868: Liberals – 66; Conservatives – 39
1874: Home Rule – 60; Conservatives – 33; Liberals – 10

The first of these was in 1874, when the new Home Rule League emerged as a political force led by Isaac Butt. In the previous few elections, after the demise of the Repeal Movement and the Independent Irish Party, the British Liberals and Conservatives were the only parties active in Ireland. In 1874, most of the Liberal support moved to Home Rulers. It took the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, as well as the nature of the close but difficult relationship between the Nationalists and the Liberals, to wipe the Liberals out as an active force in Ireland. Under his leadership in 1885, Home Rulers won 85 seats, with Conservatives winning 18, mainly confined to Ulster and the University of Dublin seats.

1918 – Sinn Féin replaces Home Rule

1910: Nationalist – 72; Unionists – 20; Liberal Unionists – 2; All-for-Ireland League – 6; Independents – 3
1918: Sinn Féin – 73; Unionists – 22; Nationalists – 6; Labour Unionists – 3; Independent Unionist – 1

The Nationalists maintained this dominance until 1918, even if in later years it suffered from factionalization. The rising in 1916 had put focus on Sinn Féin, a party founded in 1905 with an abstentionist policy advocating that Irish MPs should withdraw from Westminster and establish their own assembly in Dublin. They had a poor electoral record till 1917. During the First World War, the Nationalists in Westminster had been fighting against the introduction of conscription in Ireland. They were successful in that till 1917, and when they were finally beaten by the Government, they withdrew from parliament in protest. This was seen as an admission that the Sinn Féin approach was justified. It was then Sinn Féin’s activism that led to conscription being impossible to introduce, and Sinn Féin-backed candidates won a series of bye-elections in 1917 and 1918.

In December 1918 election, Sinn Féin broke through in full force. The Nationalists held only one seat outside of Ulster, William Archer Redmond in Waterford. Having been unopposed in election after election in many parts of the country, their electoral machine was no match against the vibrancy of the young Sinn Féin movement.

Sinn Féin then split in 1922 on the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In the four elections after the split, the rank order was the Pro-Treaty side, as Cumann na nGaedheal, followed by the Anti-Treaty side, as Fianna Fáil from 1926, followed by minor parties such as the Farmers’ Party, Labour, the National League and a large number of Independents. Though Cumann na nGaedheal governed alone, it did not have a majority and once Fianna Fáil entered the Dáil, it was dependent on the support of the Farmers and the Independents, which mainly represented business and Protestant interests.

1932 – Fianna Fáil beats Cumann na nGaedheal to top

1927: Cumann na nGaedheal – 62; Fianna Fáil – 57; Labour – 13; Farmers – 6; National league – 2; Irish Workers’ League – 1; Independent – 12
1932:Fianna Fáil – 72; Cumann na nGaedheal – 57; Labour – 7; Farmers – 4; Independent Labour – 2; Ind – 12

Then in 1932, Fianna Fáil won the most seats, and since then we have had a near uniform party system, with Fianna Fáil dominant, Fine Gael some way behind, followed by Labour and sometimes other parties. Only three times has this order been interfered with, when Clann na Talmhan moved ahead of Labour in 1933 and 1944, and the Progressive Democrats did so in 1987, but this did not last more than a single election. Under this party system, parties naturally pivoted around their relationship with Fianna Fáil. As long as Fianna Fáil insisted on ruling alone as a matter of principle, parties with natural differences such as the Fine Gael and Labour found themselves as regular partners in government.

2011 – Fine Gael and Labour set to pass out Fianna Fáil

2007: Fianna Fáil – 78; Fine Gael – 51; Labour – 20; Green Party – 6; Sinn Féin – 4; Progressive Democrats – 2; Independent – 5
2011 Latest Red C poll: Fine Gael 35%; Labour 21%, Fianna Fáil 14%, Sinn Féin 14%, Greens 4%, Others 12%

The polls have near consistently shown Fine Gael as the largest party in the next Dáil and it also looks likely that Labour could win enough to push Fianna Fáil to third place. A lot could change between now and the election, but the demoralising effect of ministerial retirements and the internal battles so close to an election could further depress Fianna Fáil voter turnout, while they remain toxic to transfers. Though it is likely that they will be closer to Labour in the final poll, they will fare poorly on transfers.

However well or poorly Fianna Fáil fare, they will be a very different party from now. Their raison d’être had been linked with their success, their belief that they embodied the Irish nation. Whether they become a small conservative nationalist party or a business and enterprise oriented party will depend very much on who remains.

While it is fair to expect Fine Gael and Labour to form the next government, it will be an unwieldy government, and this may be the last time for a generation where they are seen as natural government partners. Just as Cumann na nGaedheal did in the 1920s, Fine Gael could rely for its Dáil majority on sympathetic Independents. There is even a small possibility of this occurring this year, with Shane Ross having announced his intentions to stand, David McWilliams hinting. Were Declan Ganley to stand and be successful, he might support such a government with the assumption that on European matters Fine Gael would have the support of Labour. But such an arrangement remains yet only a distant possibility.

Just as it took two elections, 1880 and 1885, for the new party system after 1874 to emerge, we will be in a state of flux between parties for a little while yet. This election will be about the electorate giving its verdict on Fianna Fáil. Next time we should see the system that will remain for most of the early part of this century.

The long overdue Saville Report

16 June, 2010 1 comment

The publication of the Saville Report yesterday marked an end for many in Derry to years of waiting to be vindicated, for it to be clearly stated on the public record that the 14 protesters shot dead on 30 January 1972 were innocent and had been unlawfully killed. The publication yesterday was followed by a humble apology from David Cameron:

But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day – and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our Armed Forces acted wrongly. The Government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the Armed Forces. And for that, on behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am deeply sorry.

This is a significant admission of culpability on the part of the state in the actions on that date, and from the reception to the report and the state in Derry itself is a sign that it is one more step in the process of healing.

This report should also act a reminder to those of us who would condemn the actions of the IRA during that period. It is, of course, just to condemn those who took up arms against their fellow citizens, and the vindictiveness and the intransigence of those in the higher ranks of the IRA for many years, including the current leadership of Sinn Féin. And tribute must be paid to those leaders of nationalism in the SDLP, Gerry Fitt, John Hume, Seamus Mallon, Eddie McGrady, Mark Durkan and others, who consistently sought peaceful, constitutional and conciliatory approaches to settlement.

But in the context of Bloody Sunday, and perhaps more particularly of the Widgery Report which initially followed it, in which the army was exonerated, and accused of having “bordered on reckless”, that so many young Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland felt so alienated from the institutions of the state, with such a report that embodied the arrogant attitude that the state could do no wrong. At this distance, we should at least be able to comprehend and appreciate the part the British Army played in escalating the division and conflict in the years of the Troubles.

But most importantly now, while acknowledging the hurt of the past, Northern Ireland needs to move on to governing itself effectively, and it is thankfully managing to do so most of the time given the context of events like this.

Image from CAIN

Why Others annoys me

On the BBC’s results page, they list a summary of the result, which has a figure of 19 Others. This includes all Northern Ireland parties, despite the fact that they give figures for the Scottish Nationalist Party, with less seats than the DUP, and Plaid Cyrmu, with less seats than Sinn Féin and as many as the SDLP. This is a reminder of how little Britain really cares about Northern Ireland, but as parties represented in Westminster, they really should be listed. They won’t act as a unit, and particularly after an election with no clear result, it would informative for them to be considered separately, to consider traditional allegiances with the main British parties. The SDLP, for example, could be trusted to support the Labour Party in most circumstances, as could Sylvia Hermon, who voted more consistently with the government than some Labour backbenchers. The Alliance have had institutional links with the Liberal Democrats so it should fairly much be taken for granted that Naomi Long will support whichever prime minister Nick Clegg decides to support. Sinn Féin’s abstention changes the number required for a majority in the Commons, as the total number taking their seats would be 645 rather than 650. And that would leave anyone looking at the figures able to quickly see the DUP’s eight seats and wonder how they’d act.

And it’s not just about Northern Ireland. Grouping small parties as Others masks at first glance the breakthrough of small parties, such as the Green Party at this election. I wouldn’t really mind either if they listed the change for Respect, down from one to no seats, so we could all have the pleasure of being reminded of George Galloway’s defeat, one of the small comforts of this election.

Changing state of Northern Ireland MPs

7 May, 2010 1 comment

There have been significant and notable changes in Northern Ireland at all recent elections. Here is a quick glance summary of the 18 Northern Ireland constituencies since 1992. Since then, only 3 constituencies have been represented continuously by the same party, Foyle and Down South by the SDLP and Antrim North by the DUP.

Constituency 1992 1997 2001 2005 2010
Antrim East Beggs Beggs Beggs Wilson Wilson
Antrim North Paisley Paisley Paisley Paisley Paisley, Jr
Antrim South Fosythe Forsythe Burnside McCrea McCrea
Belfast East Robinson Robinson Robinson Robinson Long
Belfast North Walker Walker Dodds Dodds Dodds
Belfast South Smyth Smyth Smyth McDonnell McDonnell
Belfast West Hendron Adams Adams Adams Adams
Down North Kilfedder McCartney Hermon Hermon Hermon
Down South McGrady McGrady McGrady McGrady Ritchie
Fermanagh–South Tyrone Maginnis Maginnis Gildernew Gildernew Gildernew
Foyle Hume Hume Hume Durkan Durkan
Lagan Valley Molyneaux Donaldson Donaldson Donaldson Donaldson
Londonderry East Ross Ross Campbell Campbell Campbell
Newry–Armagh Mallon Mallon Mallon Murphy Murphy
Strangford Taylor Taylor Robinson Robinson Shannon
Tyrone West   Thompson Doherty Doherty Doherty
Ulster Mid McCrea McGuinness McGuinness McGuinness McGuinness
Upper Bann Trimble Trimble Trimble Simpson Simpson
Total (Party) UUP: 9
SDLP: 4
DUP: 3
UPUP: 1
UUP: 10
SDLP: 3
SF: 2
DUP: 2
UKUP: 1
UUP: 6
DUP: 5
SF:
SDLP: 3
DUP: 9
SF: 5
SDLP: 3
UUP: 1
DUP: 8
SF:5
SDLP: 3
AP: 1
Ind:1
Community Breakdown Unionist: 13
Nationalist: 4
Unionist: 13
Nationalist: 5
Unionist: 11
Nationalist: 7
Unionist: 10
Nationalist: 8
Unionist: 9
Nationalist: 8
Other: 1

(DUP in Orange, UUP in Blue, SF in Dark Green, SDLP in Light Green, small Unionist parties in Pale Orange, Alliance in Yellow; Source: ElectionsIreland.org)

The 2010 election saw a major upset with the defeat of the DUP leader Peter Robinson in the seat he has held in East Belfast since 1979, losing to the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long. This was the first time an Alliance Party candidate won a seat in a Westminster election, Stratton Mills having defected from the Ulster Unionists in 1974.

It was also the first election in which the Ulster Unionist Party failed to win a seat. They have existed since 1886, when the Conservatives first contested elections on an explicitly Unionist platform, in opposition to Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill. They organized as the Ulster Unionist Council in 1905. From 1974, they no longer took the Conservative whip in Westminster, and they broke all remaining ties in 1885. In 2008, the UUP agreed an electoral alliance with the Conservatives, which ultimately led to the loss of their only MP, Sylvia Hermon, who would not accept the Tory whip.

Text-only version:

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The election in Northern Ireland

Of the eighteen seats in Northern Ireland, fourteen are unlikely to change hands. At the moment, the DUP hold 9 seats, Sinn Féin hold 5, the SDLP 3 and one seat is held by the Independent Sylvia Hermon, who was elected in 2005 as an Ulster Unionist. It will be an interesting election to watch from a few perspectives. Will UUP, now standing under the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force banner make any gains? Will Unionist voters be more convinced of the benefit of supporting a likely government party or an unaligned party? Can the SDLP hold their own under their new leader Margaret Ritchie? Will the DUP and Sinn Féin face an ebb in their increased support since 2001?

I would count the following thirteen as safe seats:

  • Antrim East, to be held by the DUP’s Sammy Wilson
  • Antrim North, currently held by former DUP leader Rev. Ian Paisley, who will most like likely be succeeded by his son, Ian Paisley, Jr.
  • Belfast East, to be held by First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson
  • Belfast North, to be held by DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds
  • Belfast West, to be held by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams
  • Down North, to be held by Independent Sylvia Hermon
  • Down South, currently held by the SDLP’s Eddie McGrady, to be succeeded by the new party leader, Margaret Ritchie
  • Foyle, to be held by former SDLP leader Mark Durkan
  • Lagan Valley, to be held by the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson
  • Londonderry East, to be held the DUP’s Gregory Campbell
  • Newry–Armagh, to be held by Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy
  • Tyrone West, to be held by Sinn Féin’s Pat Doherty
  • Ulster Mid, to be held by deputy First Minister Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness

Leaving the following five, the first three fights between Unionists, the remaining two between Unionists and sitting nationalists:

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