The late Noel Whelan, a skillful political commentator and Dáil number cruncher, once remarked that the analysis of election counts inevitably moves quickly, often glossing over the importance of early seat wins — irrespective of how dramatic they can be for parties.
Whelan, who passed away last July and who is greatly missed at these times, was phenomenally skilled at drilling down into core numbers, transfers, and seat races, often predicting the national trends before they played out.
In Election 2020, there are a number of bellwether constituencies that, when the counting starts, should set the scene for the winners and losers in what has been a twisting and surprising campaign.
Whelan, once a columnist for this newspaper, would, ahead of elections, publish his tallyman’s handbook, assessing the potential successes or failures of a party at the polls and their prospects of power.
Certainly there are almost a dozen key constituencies which will tell us early this weekend how the national political landscape is shaping up.
Looking at Sinn Féin’s potential gains — after a 25% high in an opinion poll on Monday — is key to understanding outcomes, as is assessing Fine Gael’s expected losses, after its slide to 20% from its 26% win in the 2016 general election.
Fianna Fáil will also likely scoop up second seats in areas.
Sinn Féin looks set to win double seats in Donegal, Cavan-Monaghan, Louth, and potentially Dublin Mid-West.
In Cork North Central, Sinn Féin could top the poll.
Fianna Fáil is in the game for two seats there, while Fine Gael will most likely be locked out of a seat after the double-jobbing controversy involving the constituency’s former party TD, Dara Murphy.
Early signs of a two-seat win for Fianna Fáil here on count day would herald a comeback for the party, while a Fine Gael loss would sound alarm bells for them.
Watch if Labour’s John Maher causes an upset and clinch the fourth seat.
Cork East is barometer of the dogfight between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the campaign.
Expect David Stanton and Kevin O’Keeffe, sitting TDs from both parties, to be returned, but watch support levels for their running mates.
The constituency is traditionally split north and south and whichever party gets closer to a second seat will add to the national picture on count day.
While Sinn Féin has had its internal difficulties in the area, retaining its seat would signal a good day for Mary Lou McDonald’s party.
Fine Gael is facing trouble returning two TDs in Dublin Bay South, home of Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and popular backbencher Kate O’Connell, as well as Green Party leader and Fianna Fáil heavyweight Jim O’Callaghan.
A Fine Gael loss could be filled by the Sinn Féin surge, with the party’s Chris Andrews picking up enough transfers to finally get to the Dáil.
This constituency has some of the biggest political beasts of politics, with high-profile figures battling it out in some of the country’s most affluent areas.
A Sinn Féin win and Fine Gael loss would be a political earthquake in the campaign.
Down the road in Dún Laoghaire, while any Sinn Féin surge is unlikely to land into the four-seater, a Fianna Fáil comeback should see the party finally land a seat here, while Fine Gael looks on course to return just one of its previously held three seats in what was a Blueshirt stronghold for the last decade.
But the focus, I suggest, will be on where Sinn Féin makes gains and Fine Gael loses or is shoved out of the last seat.
In Mayo, the incumbents will likely only return one seat, while Sinn Féin could be on course to make a massive breakthrough and Fianna Fáil should take two.
Mayo, home of previous Fine Gael taoiseach Enda Kenny, will no doubt be a bellwether constituency.
Keep an eye on Fianna Fáil’s chances at doubling up its seats in Limerick City and County while both Meath East and Meath West could see damaging Fine Gael losses replaced by Sinn Féin wins.
Whelan wasn’t wrong when he anticipated that the results of the 2011 general election would be “seismic” for Irish politics.
He might very well have predicted the same this time.