One Race But Three Victors

Well its all over bar the shouting (or gnashing of teeth) and three clear victors have emerged from the election for the next President of Ireland. First and foremost of course is Labour’s Michael D. Higgins who managed to expand on his party’s core vote to almost certainly win through to the Áras. From RTÉ’s report yesterday evening:

“2115 National FIRST COUNT: Higgins 39.6% (701,101), Gallagher 28.5% (504,964); McGuinness 13.7% (243,030); Mitchell 6.4% (113,321); Norris 6.2% (109,469); Scallon 2.9% (51,220); Davis 2.7% (48,657).”

With the elimination of the also-rans Davis and Scallon their votes were distributed to the other candidates with a second count result coming in early this morning:

“Higgins: 730,480 votes (+29,379); Gallagher 529,401 (+24,437); McGuinness 252,611 (+9,581); Mitchell 127,357 (+14,036); Norris 116,526 (+7,057)

The quota is 885,882.”

Since none of the candidates met the quota requirement to be elected outright counting will resume this morning with the strong presumption that Higgins will eventually hoover up enough preferences from a third or fourth count to be elected (the votes coming from Mitchell and Norris). As well as a personal achievement for the former TD from Galway it is also a good result for the Labour Party, especially after its repeated drubbing in recent polls (the latest placing it in third place behind Sinn Féin). However, many in Labour are well aware that the vote for Michael D. Higgins was very much a personal one in an election dogged with controversy and that they have in no small part the dramatic intervention by Martin McGuinness on RTÉ’s Frontline Debate to thank for a significant chunk of their 39.6% vote. Remove the “outing” of Seán Gallagher as an unofficial Fianna Fáil candidate rather than the Independent nominee that he presented to the general public and we might have a very different story here today.

It also remains to be seen just how much of that nearly 40% support Labour might retain in any future election. Though they are having a good week electorally (including yesterday’s by-election victory in Dublin) there is little doubt that in real terms their national vote is nearer to 20%, and perhaps lower still. This may be the best Labour vote ever but it is also a very much an exceptional one.

Despite the criticisms of Seán Gallagher in the last week of the race and the controversy that whipped up around him he still managed to accrue a good 28.5%, clearly indicating that the supposed demise of Fianna Fáil as a political entity has been grossly exaggerated. While its doubtful that the party itself could capture such a high vote in a general election at this moment in time (part of the Gallagher vote is clearly of the “floating” variety and the FF “brand” remains faintly odious to many) who can say what will happen five years from now. If a week is a long time in politics five years is a lifetime. The party will also be buoyed by their healthy showing in the Dublin by-election referred to above where they took a respectable second place. Talk of Fianna Fáil renaming and rebranding itself is just that: talk. Talk of Fianna Fáil repackaging itself with Seán Gallagher somewhere near or at the top is a lot more realistic.

For Sinn Féin and Martin McGuinness that 13.7% is a good, if not spectacular, result. While some in the Commentariat were focusing on some wilder polling predictions (McGuinness at 19% for instance) few in SF believed it likely. Their aim was 13-15% of the vote and they have more or less hit that target. 15% would have been nice but nearly 14% leaves them set up for future groundwork in constituencies across the country. That they managed to achieve this despite a ferocious storm of criticism from the political and media establishment in Ireland says much for where SF is right now, in electoral terms. While there is, and will be, no Sinn Féin “revolution” at the ballot box in this part of the country we are clearly seeing the benefts of the party’s slow and steady strategy. Just as SF gradually built up its electoral base in the northern part of Ireland so too are they doing the same here. While critics may try and focus on McGuinness’ high standing within the party and spin the story into a Sinn Féin loss or rejection by the southern electorate that is to completely misunderstand the situation and what SF hoped to achieve. Or rather what they have achieved.

If there is any real loser in this election then surely it must be Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell. A 6.4% result is beyond terrible. However for the party itself, riding high and nearly unassailable in the polls, the principal fallout will be internal recriminations. We are unlikely to see much of knock-on effect in the polls for FG. At least until the worsening economic situation becomes apparent to voters.

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3 comments

  1. I think there’s a lot to agree with in your analysis above. And inthink you’re right about what the Gallagher vote represents. Question is can FF convert it to their advantage…

    1. Rumours are already doing the rounds of a Gallagher run for Dáil Éireann under the FF banner (officially, this time). If the Seanad was not due the scrapheap I wonder would that have been the first point of call for him, an “apprenticeship” before a run at the Dáil?

    2. Thanks, WBS. Just read the most recent post on CLR analysing the presidential election and I think it captures the situation very well indeed.

      The SF result is a grade “C”, but no “A” or “B”. Yet not the “E” or “F” some in the media would like it to be, either.

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