Fianna Fáil rises to turn tables on Coalition parties

After suffering devastating losses in 2011 in the wake of the fiscal and financial crash, Fianna Fáil have managed to come back and pick up seats at the expense of Labour, and Fine Gael in particular, which had won an overwhelming majority, writes Joe Leogue
Fianna Fáil rises to turn tables on Coalition parties

FINE GAEL and Labour’s joint vote in Cork collapsed by nearly half compared to 2011, analysis of last week’s election shows.

The election has been a disaster for the coalition parties on Leeside, with Fine Gael and Labour losing four and three TDs, respectively, following a haemorrhaging of votes across Cork’s five constituencies.

The coalition parties capitalised on Fianna Fáil’s weakness in 2011 to draw in a combined 157,411 first preferences across Cork as they swept to power with a massive majority.

But Fine Gael and Labour are now nursing their wounds after pulling just 83,560 votes between them across the five Cork constituencies.

Between them the two lost 25% of the share of votes in Cork compared to 2011, while the election was a resounding success for Fianna Fáil.

Over 30% of voters in Cork gave Micheál Martin’s party their first preference, exceeding the national average of 24.3% of voters who gave their number one to Fianna Fáil.

The swing in fortunes has seen the party retain its three TDs in the city, while picking up seats in the three rural Cork constituencies. It has now gone from having four TDs in Cork in 2011 to winning seven in 2016.

While only increasing its share of the total Cork vote by 1.8 percentage points, Sinn Féin still picked up an extra seat to up their representation from the county to three. There were gains too for AAA-PBP and independents, who both picked up one seat.

The major swing in Cork North Central saw Labour’s share of the vote drop from nearly 27% in 2011 to just over 7% in 2016. The party attempted to mitigate for the change in its fortunes by running Kathleen Lynch as a solo candidate instead of introducing a running partner as it did in the last election, but it was not enough to prevent the junior minister from losing her seat.

With Billy Kelleher elected on the first count with 4,051 votes to spare, Fianna Fáil’s share shot up to nearly 28% of the vote, and party leaders may well be wondering if a running mate for the health spokesman maybe a viable option next time around.

Mick Barry was the other main beneficiary from Labour’s collapse, with his share going from 9.2% to 15.7% and gaining a seat in the process.

The ‘group of death’ in Cork South Central was a talking point before the election. The redrawing of the constituency boundaries and reduction to a four-seater impacted particularly on Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer, who lost his Bishopstown base to Cork North Central and his seat in the process.

Here Fianna Fáil benefitted most from the collapse of the government parties, with Micheál Martin and Michael McGrath consolidating their seats and both getting in on the first count.

Sinn Féin increased its share by 4.3 percentage points, but that was enough for Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire to win his seat.

Seán Sherlock is the last man standing for Labour in Cork, despite the party taking a hammering in Cork East. Boasting a 30.8% share of the vote between Sherlock and John Mulvihill Snr in 2011, Labour ran the junior minister on his own this time around and took just 13.2% of the vote, but this was enough to get him over the line.

A 7.4% swing in Fianna Fáil’s share of the vote was enough to win Kevin O’Keeffe a seat, while Fine Gael will question its vote management. It ran three candidates who between them managed a 28.5% share of the vote. It was only enough to secure re-election for David Stanton, while Tom Barry lost his seat.

Vote management was also a hot topic in Cork North West, where Fine Gael ran its two sitting TDs and lost one of the seats to Fianna Fáil. Here independents and others claimed more than 20% of votes, five years after an all-party contest. Having never won a seat in Cork North West, Labour cut its losses and decided against running a candidate, meaning its 14% share from 2011 was up for grabs.

Fianna Fáil boosted its share by 9.7 percentage points and took a second seat, deposing sitting Fine Gael TD Áine Collins in the process. The Green Party doubled its share of the votes on 2011, but it was not enough to halt early elimination for Cormac Manning.

History was made in Cork South West when Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (FF) became its first female TD — despite a reduction in Fianna Fáil’s vote share.

The party ran two candidates in 2011, and shared 23.6% of first preferences in that election. The 19.6% won by lone candidate Murphy O’Mahony was enough, however, to secure her seat.

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour all ceded a share of the vote in Cork North West in this election — the latter party taking just 7% and losing Michael McCarthy in the process — and the big winners were non-party candidates.

Five ‘independent or other’ runners shared 31.3% of the vote this time, up from just 4.52% in 2011. This mainly benefitted Michael Collins, who took the second seat on the fifth count, and Alan Coleman, though the former Fianna Fáil man was eliminated on the fourth.

Fine Gael’s share of the vote went from nearly a half in 2011 to less than a third, and this ultimately cost Noel Harrington his seat.

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