Insider has been in constant contact with people from all parties since the election was called in mid-January, and has never seen such uncertainty in the closing days of a campaign, so let’s look at the position of each party and Independents as we approach polling day.
Nationally, the campaign has not been successful for Fine Gael, with the party’s poll ratings dropping considerably over the last three weeks. It is hard to identify the exact cause for the slippage, as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and the party’s ministers and spokespersons, have generally performed well in all the debates. However, since the start of the campaign, and indeed over previous months, the issues of health and housing have been allowed dominate political discourse, and this has not suited the main party of government.
Despite recent positive headlines relating to the homeless figures, this is an area where the Government is seen to have performed poorly. Likewise with health, in spite of all the main parties agreeing that Slaintecare is the way forward, this is also an area where the Government is seen as vulnerable.
Fine Gael has been unable to successfully communicate the enormous economic advancements which have been made over the last four or five years and seemed to be on the back foot for most of the campaign. Insider cannot understand how Fine Gael has not been more emphatic in pointing out the progress made since 2016, and more especially since 2011.
The unemployment rate was 15.4 per cent when Fianna Fáil was last in power, it was nine per cent at the time of the 2016 election, and it is now 4.8 per cent. A budget deficit of €13 billion in 2011 was reduced to €2 billion in 2015, and a budget surplus of more than €2 billion is expected in 2020. More than 70,000 people were emigrating from this country per annum at the start of this decade. We now have net inward migration of +30,000 people a year. This is a remarkable turnaround in under a decade, and FG’s failure to communicate this effectively has been the most disappointing part of its campaign.
In Galway West, the recent TG4 poll showed Hildegarde Naughton TD heading the poll on 13 per cent of the vote, and Sean Kyne on 10 per cent. There is no doubt that Dep Naughton has consolidated her position since 2016, but many will be surprised to see her poll ahead of Minister Kyne. If the FG national slide continues this week, one of its seats may be in trouble. At this stage, Insider expects both Fine Gael TDs to be returned to the next Dáil, but it will be a close run thing between both of them, and a number of other candidates.
In Galway East, Dep Ciaran Cannon should be returned, but Cllr Peter Roche cannot be discounted, and Insider again expects a close battle between the two for the one Fine Gael seat.
Insider expects FF to end up on slightly less than 25 per cent of the vote this weekend. This has been a difficult election for the party. Neither in government, nor truly in opposition, for the last four years, it is difficult for FF to stake out its own exclusive ground. Where FG is seen as not having delivered in the areas of health and housing, it is difficult for FF to say things would be radically different under a government led by the party.
'Insider expects Ó Cuív's vote to be down on previous elections, but it is difficult not to see him as the leading Fianna Fail candidate'
"Why did you leave the Government in power so long with the confidence and supply arrangement?" is the cry of the other Opposition parties as they try to tie FF to some of the perceived failings of Fine Gael. It will be a remarkable personal achievement for party leader Micheal Martin, if he ends up as taoiseach. Taking over the party leadership shortly before the 2011 election, with the future looking bleak for Fianna Fáil, many were doubting the party's very survival.
The 2016 election showed a significant reversal of the party’s declining fortunes, and it now looks set to be the leading party of the next government. Locally, Eamon Ó Cuív looks poised for a return to the 33rd Dáil. Insider expects his vote to be down on previous elections, but it is difficult not to see him as the leading Fianna Fail candidate. Cllr Ollie Crowe is putting in a tremendous campaign, and Insider expects he will be in the fight for one of the final seats.
In Galway East, Dep Anne Rabbitte will be involved in a mighty battle with Cllr Donagh Killilea. Similarly to Fine Gael, the incumbent should remain in place, but there are no guarantees the running mate will not cause an upset.
The story of the election so far, it is difficult to see SF not increase its Dáil numbers when the votes are counted this weekend. It has been a strange campaign for Sinn Fein, as the party must regret not having more candidates in the field. Many pundits are at a loss as to how the SF surge has materialised, but Insider knows!
All parties, with the exception of Fine Gael, have been campaigning on the basis of wanting ‘change’. However, when looked at closely, most voters do not associate Fianna Fáil with ‘change’, they see the party as more of the same. Therefore, if change is what people want, they are unlikely to vote for either FF or FG. This, along with the normal ‘protest’ vote that exists at every election, has led to the increased support for Sinn Féin.
'In Insider’s opinion, two of the following candidates will be elected in Galway West: Independents Noel Grealish and Catherine Connolly, Niall Ó Tuathail (Social Democrats ), and Cllr Pauline O’Reilly (Greens )'
Though Insider does not believe Sinn Fein will receive the 24/25 per cent support indicated by the most recent polls, he does expect a significant improvement on its GE2016 figure, and believes it will end up somewhere short of 20 per cent of the national vote. There is no doubt the other parties have failed to expose the weaknesses in Sinn Fein’s economic arguments, and party leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has had an easy ride so far.
Insider recalls Depo McDonald using the words "arrogant, hypocritical and obnoxious" to describe the other main parties at the start of the seven person leader’s debate: imagine if one of the other party leaders had described her or her party in such a manner? She also described herself as wanting to "sit around the table where decisions are being made" in government. If one is to believe Peadar Tobin, she may not even be sitting around the table where decisions relating to Sinn Fein are being made.
Mairéad Farrell is unfortunate that there are a number of options for voters in the Galway West constituency, who do not wish to support either FG or FF. Sinn Féin will have candidates elected in constituencies on the sole basis that it represents neither of the larger parties, but Galway West is unlikely to be one of these. In spite of the high national poll ratings for SF, the odds are also against Louis O’Hara making the breakthrough in Galway East.
Independents and others
In Insider’s opinion, two and four of the following candidates will be elected in Galway West: Independents Noel Grealish and Catherine Connolly, Niall Ó Tuathail (Social Democrats ), and Cllr Pauline O’Reilly (Greens ). It is too close to call which of these four will make it over the winning line at the weekend, and transfers will play a vital role in deciding the destination of at least two, if not all five, of the Galway West seats.
It is hard to see either the sitting Mayor, Cllr Mike Cubbard, or his immediate predecessor, Cllr Neil McNelis challenging for a seat on this occasion. Insider can see Labour form part of the next government, and, if so, Cllr McNelis would be well placed to challenge for, or be appointed to, the Senate. This would set him up nicely for a more realistic challenge for a Dáil seat in future elections, when the party is in a stronger position. If there is to be a Green wave on Saturday, Eoin Madden may well poll strongly in Galway East, but is very unlikely to unseat the Independent TD, Sean Canney.
In the course of GE2020, the national media’s analysis of the political landscape has been the weakest Insider has ever witnessed. I expect uninformed and inaccurate analysis on social media, whose content is often dominated by paid party hacks and keyboard warriors, but am more than disappointed by the performance of some of our national political writers and broadcasters.
Over the last three weeks, politics and public discourse have been debased by elements of the media, and this is a topic Insider will return to in the coming weeks. Insider regrets that none of the leaders in one of the seven person debates on television last week removed his/her microphone, and left the studio due to the disgraceful manner of the questioning. The aggressive and bullying antics employed have no place in a civilised debate. Eliciting information from the candidates seemed to play second fiddle to the macho stance adopted by the presenters; it was an unedifying spectacle.