Wednesday 7 December 2016

Party gets a smack from the commuter belt it once held tightly

Published 29/02/2016 | 02:30

Labour's Willie Penrose. Photo: Tom Burke
Labour's Willie Penrose. Photo: Tom Burke

One of the biggest disappointments for the Labour Party will be the marked drop in its support in the commuter counties around Dublin. Many of these voters would have moved there due to the high cost of housing in the capital during the Celtic Tiger boom. When the 2011 election came around, this urban, liberal base voted for Labour in their droves - only to switch their vote over the weekend and help to bring about the party's startling decline.

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The voting patterns in Kildare North, which includes the commuter towns of Maynooth, Celbridge, Leixlip and Kilcock, perhaps best tells the story. The population of these towns experienced huge growth between 2006 and 2011 as families moved out of the capital and house prices rocketed.

The population of Celbridge grew by 13pc, while Maynooth's rose by almost 17pc, figures from the Central Statistics Office show.

In the 2007 General Election, Labour secured 17pc of all first preferences.

In 2011, it rose to 29pc as commuters began exercising their franchise but plummeted by 21pc over the weekend to a low of just 8pc - the highest drop in the commuter belt. This, in a constituency where the Labour TD, Emmet Stagg, had held the seat since 1987.

The pattern was continued across other commuter counties. Labour's vote went from 5pc in Louth in 2007 to 19pc four years later. It fell by 10pc in this election.

In Meath East, it rose from 12pc to 21pc, only to fall back by 16 points. In Wicklow, it's down 13pc. In Meath West, by 10pc.

Even the stronghold of Longford-Westmeath has not escaped, where sitting Labour TD Willie Penrose has topped the poll in every election since 1997, never failing to garner fewer than 8,000 first preferences.

This time? He received 4,822 and the party's support fell by 18pc.

Fine Gael hasn't escaped either. Its vote is down by 3pc in Kildare South, but by 14pc in Longford-Westmeath.

However, it is Labour that will find it harder to rebuild.

The big gains have been made by the Independents, and by Fianna Fáil to a lesser extent. With the loss of high-profile candidates, a depleted Labour faces an uphill struggle to win back those votes.

Irish Independent

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