While it will not surprise Galway readers that an Independent-Left candidate made the final cut in Donegal - due to the county’s continual ‘No’ line on almost everything governmental - the election results in Galway West told a similar story. In fact, while the establishment parties are working to claim a majority, the detail in the transfers tells a different, and quite revealing, story.
SF ran three people in Donegal. Pearse Doherty, always bankable, the well liked Pádraig McLochlainn, and Gary Doherty. After much deliberating late into Sunday evening, Doherty was out of the running and McLochlainn conceded to Thomas Pringle. When Doherty stepped out of the race, almost 20 per cent of his transfers went to Pringle. A similar number of transfers came from FF and FG candidates and Pringle nosed in front on the 13th Count. Pringle’s second big transfer haul was when Independent-right candidate Dessie Sheils bowed out. Although he started in fifth, and finished in fifth, FF, SF and an almost diametrically opposed Independent became the legs on his seat in the Dáil.
I had all this down to my home county’s ‘No’ mentality until I started looking around the country to see how events had unfolded. Looking to Limerick city, Michael Noonan, who you might assume to be symbiotic with both Fine Geal and the Dáil, took six counts to step back into his seat. He, along with his running mate bagged consistent transfers from the Social Democrats, SF, and the Greens. Meanwhile Willie O’Dea, running the only FF ticket in town gifted Sinn Fein, Labour, and FG significant numbers. On the same count, AAA and SF supporters gifted Labour its seat in Limerick city. Also worth noting, FG’s two-man strategy drew an almost identical percentage as O’Dea did on his own, and mirrored both parties national tallies.
This is a very complex web, and all the constituencies I’ve browsed through tell a similar tale. While the established FF/FG core has survived on their lowest ever combined percentage, and have the biggest say in forming the next Dáil, the voters are thinking differently. In Donegal, SF supporters are giving at least 20 per cent of second preferences to other entities, before the running SF second and third candidates get them. In Limerick, FF, the Greens, Sinn Féin, and the Social Democrats are also backing Michael Noonan, while AAA and SF supporters still harbour affection for Labour.
So what of Galway West? Supporters of FF’s John Connolly clearly had Noel Grealish on their list, and while he may have been a PD once, his supporters were clearly hovering the pencil above Independent Catherine Connolly, as she made her most significant progress in the later stages of the race – the final spoils from FG voters gave Connolly around 30 per cent of the last count.
While in Donegal, Galway West, and Limerick, established parties ran multi-person campaigns in a bid to secure transfers, the electorate did not entirely follow. Voting was cast in a wide ideological spread across these three constituencies. A number one for the old bedfellows no longer guarantees a two and a three for the same house.
In 2016, arguably the most social media rich campaign we have seen, people picked candidates over parties. The number of political options presented this time were wider than ever. With the emergent hard right being just a bit too hard right for the right, and the hard Left not being centre enough to get speaking rights just yet, the electorate are clearly moving away from parties and closer to individuals and ideals. The message here is that Irish voters want a government of good candidates regardless of which cumann they are flying flags for.
The FG/FF hatchery has survived, but survived at almost half their combined numbers when compared with 1982, and the decline has been consistent, rather than the reported ‘Earthquake’. SF were stripped of their excess by a plethora of new Left options, Labour has clearly lost its connection with the protest vote, and the group that national media likes to call ‘Other’ have connected at community level to a point where they must be negotiated with to form a government.
All this happened because the electorate in 2016 have voted in a more individualist way than ever before. Party allegiance is not going too far past first preference. Ireland wants a bit of A, with a bit of C and a bit of B; and they want to control the government more than ever.
Eoghan Holland is Head of News at Flirt FM, a native of Donegal, and a graduate of the South Galway Adult Learner Centre and NUI Galway.