Getting the number one preference essential for independents

With Mayo County Councillor, Michael Kilcoyne finally making his mind up to enter the race for the 31st Dáil this week the major parties were given another headache as they prepare for the election on February 25. Kilcoyne wasn’t the only independent to put his name in the hat this week with Ballina pair Martin Daly and Loretta Clarke joining what is fast becoming a congested field of candidates.

But when it comes to polling day how will the independents fair out?

Since Mayo became a single constituency only one independent has made it across the line to take a seat in Leinster House, Dr Jerry Cowley in 2002 (excluding Beverley Flynn, who ran as an independent in 2007 but rejoined the Fianna Fáil party later ). In that 2002 election, Cowley took a massive 8,709 first preference votes and was the first person elected on the fifth count. That impressive vote, 13.72 per cent of the total poll, was the second highest first preference vote that year second only to Michael Ring. When the first few candidates were eliminated Cowley also scored big on the transfers from other independents and candidates from the smaller parties, taking over 500 transfers in each count until he was elected.

However, in the 2007 election when Cowley looked to retain his seat he was only able to attain 3,407 first preference votes which left him out of the running more or less from the first count. He had seen his popularity fall by nearly nine per cent on the total first preference votes from five years previously.

With both Enda Kenny and Michael Ring being elected in the first and second counts before any serious number of transfers from the smaller parties could be divvied out, the surplus from the two Fine Gael men were spread mostly among their own candidates with Cowley only picking up 122 votes from the surplus of 3,362 second preferences of both Kenny and Ring. It killed off his chances. Cowley did hang in the race until the sixth count when he was eliminated and he did get sizeable transfers from both Sinn Féin candidate Gerry Murray and from Fianna Fáil’s Frank Chambers, but it was too little too late.

If Kilcoyne is going to make a good run for one of the five seats he is going to have to make sure he gets a big first preference vote, which despite his popularity will be hard as he has to contend with the fact that the presumptive next Taoiseach Enda Kenny is also looking for votes in Castlebar, Kilcoyne’s strongest territory.

In the last local elections, Kilcoyne got 2,323 first preference votes in the Castlebar electoral area putting him well over the quota and electing him first. However, it will be a big task for the trade unionist to convert that local level popularity to a county-wide popularity in only three weeks. If Kenny, as most would predict, cleans up the first preferences in the Castlebar area, especially as there is not a strong local Fianna Fáil presence since the retirement of Beverley Flynn, Kilcoyne could be facing into an uphill challenge from early after the boxes are opened at the count centres on February 25.


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