Labour makes bid to ‘recast political map’

LABOUR leader Eamon Gilmore believes his party is about to “recast the political map of this country”.

In rolling out the map, he might have to first draw a big red line starting from Clare up along the west coast to Donegal and across some border counties — marking the area where his party has a major challenge to win seats.

The party that aims to become the “third force” in Irish politics, yesterday announced it is undertaking a “major survey” of the north and west of the country to “identify the social and economic issues that are impacting at local level”.

It will survey almost 10,000 people in these areas “to get an accurate picture as to what their concerns are, and how they feel they can be addressed”.

This is a way for Labour to find out how they can turn around their poor electoral fortunes and break away from the old Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil duopoly in these constituencies.

Despite polling at 24% nationally, these are large geographical areas where Labour will find it near impossible to gain seats.

In the 2007 general election, there were 12 constituencies where the party got less than 5% of the vote — meaning it would need a massive, unprecedented swing to get seats next time around.

In six of these, the party had less than 2% of first preference votes — an extremely low base from which to aim to win a seat no matter how high its national profile. And in three of these constituencies, they didn’t even run candidates in the previous election of 2002.

The party has selected former Independent TD Jerry Cowley to run in Mayo, where just 1.13% of people voted Labour in 2007.

Dr Cowley got just 3,407 first preference and didn’t do well on transfers. Both he and his new party need a massive swing in support to win a seat here.

Frank McBrearty — whose false arrest was at the centre of the Morris Tribunal — will contest a seat for Labour in Donegal South West either in the next general election of if a by-election to replace Fianna Fáil’s Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher is held before then.

The party got less than 3% of the vote here in 2007 and, although McBrearty polled 1,500 to get a council seat last summer, he is unlikely to beat Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty, who missed out by just a couple of hundred votes in the 2007 general election.

The party has not yet selected a candidate to contest a seat in Clare, where its candidate in 2007 got the lowest votes of all 12 up for election, or in Cavan Monaghan where it got just 1.21% of first preferences.

One of the few safe seats the party depend on in the west is that of Michael D Higgins who was first elected to Galway West in 1981.

If an election is called in the next year, Mr Higgins will contest and it’s likely he will have a running mate to “blood” new talent in the area. But there have been reports that he will not run if the next election doesn’t happen until 2012, in which case it’s likely his daughter, Alice Mary Higgins, will become his successor.

After surveying almost 10,000 people in these areas and “amassing a significant amount of information about their attitudes and issues facing them” the Labour Party will hold a “major conference in the west” later this year.

This is an indication of how far Labour are willing to go in places where they will have to win by persuasion rather than party loyalty — something which Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can rely on in the north and west and a force often under-estimated in opinion polls.

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