THE Labour Party needs to overcome a near impossible numbers game to fulfil its ambition to be the largest party in the next Dáil.
It has now appointed former finance minister Ruairi Quinn to try and get the sums to add up.
His task will be to take just 65 candidates and deliver more than 50 seats in 43 constituencies. Fine Gael will be running more than 100 hopefuls.
The party has an efficient strategy to tap into the appeal of independent campaigners. But it does not have the foundation to resurrect the historic Spring Tide of 1992.
Party leader Eamon Gilmore denied the party was resigned to a strong second place. He said by putting out the biggest field in Labour’s history he thinks it can take a seat in every part of the country.
“You do the sums. We are running 65 candidates, all of them to win.
“That is our objective and that would make Labour the largest party in the next Dáil.
“We believe we can win a seat in every constituency and more than one in several constituencies,” he said.
Achieving this will require more than bullish vibes inside a nice Roscommon hotel.
Director of Elections Mr Quinn has to recreate the miracle of the loaves and fishes to turn 20 existing Dáil seats into 50.
This will mean getting the party out of the major urban centres and winning in counties where it is not used to competing.
In 11 constituencies in 2007 it garnered less than 5% support. That is a huge gap to fill.
These poor figures were primarily along the western seaboard, but it also tanked in places like Laois/Offaly.
Mr Gilmore hopes that he can spread the party’s support. He said this was the reason the parliamentary party travelled to the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon in the first place.
“[It was] to get out the message the Labour Party is serious about broadening our base and broadening our support, particularly in constituencies where we have not traditionally been strong, and that is with a view to winning a seat in each of those constituencies,” he said.
The Labour Party thinks it already has a type of template for sweeping success – 1992.
At that time, Labour, under Dick Spring, increased its support to 33 seats, up from 16.
It could have done better in 1992. It topped the poll in 16 constituencies and Democratic Left won additional seats. With more candidates and enough confidence to field running mates, it should have pushed above 40 seats for the left wing of the parliament.
But the next General Election will not present the same landscape as 1992.
Back then, the Labour Party had a foundation of left-wing support to build on.
The Workers’ Party had an excellent election in 1989, when Proinsias de Rossa, Pat McCartan, Joe Sherlock, Pat Rabbitte and Eamon Gilmore all won seats for it.
This signalled an appetite for this brand of politics and it provided a spattering of sweeper candidates in many constituencies to thwart Fianna Fáil.
Today, there is no longer a Workers Party or Democratic Left movement to rely on. So the party planners devised another ploy.
The fact the Labour Party came to Roscommon said a lot about how it plans to repeat the Spring Tide strategy.
In 2007, its candidate, Hughie Butler, won 1.81% of the vote in Longford- Roscommon.
But John Kelly took in 9.85% as an independent. He is now Labour’s candidate. They hope to take his 9%, Mr Butler’s 1.81% and add Mr Gilmore’s popularity and get to about 19% to win a seat.
It is feasible in Roscommon but harder to repeat in other parts of the west.
There was no left-wing surge in 2007. In fact, the independent ranks had a brutal outing. The Labour Party’s hope for Mayo, Dr Jerry Crowley, lost his seat. Even Sinn Féin lost the ground it gained in 2002.
Mr Gilmore said his party is prepared to make the jump. And the most volatile electorate in the past 80 years will be an asset.
He said it was selling a “One Ireland” message, with no divide between urban and rural voters.
Unfortunately for Labour, there is unavoidable geographical split in the minds and voting habits of the electorate. This may have stopped it competing in Mayo in the past, but it made for rich pickings in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.
Melding the different traditions is not easy. Conflict has already arisen. This was before the earnest effort began to mash the rag and bone selection of newly recruited independents from former Progressive Democrat TD Mae Sexton to ex-Fine Gael man Jimmy Harte.
It softened its line on stag hunting, to appease the countryside lobby, and as a result Tommy Broughan voted with the Government and was kicked out of the parliamentary party.
Incidentally, Mr Broughan was one of only two of the TDs elected under the red flag to top the poll in 2007, the other was Willie Penrose in Longford/ Westmeath.
Some within the party are already looking to repeat the success of 1992 while eliminating the mistakes. In Cork South Central Ciarán Lynch is taking on a running mate; Toddy O’Sullivan did not when he easily topped the poll in the Spring Tide.
But in the rest of the counties Mr Quinn will still have to perform mathematical miracles if the party is to edge past the two Civil War parties.
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