Friday 30 September 2016

Lynch and Buttimer likely casualties in 'Group of Death'

Paul Moran

Published 22/02/2016 | 02:30

Both Michael McGrath and Micheál Martin are looking very secure Photo: Tom Burke
Both Michael McGrath and Micheál Martin are looking very secure Photo: Tom Burke

Cork South Central has long been identified as one of the most intriguing battlegrounds in this election. This latest Millward Brown poll, conducted between Monday and Thursday last week, makes for interesting (if not worrying) reading for the government parties in particular.

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In football parlance, this is the 'Group of Death'. It is a constituency boasting a host of heavy-hitting, high-profile sitting TDs - Micheál Martin and Michael McGrath of Fianna Fail, Minister Simon Coveney and Jerry Buttimer of Fine Gael, and Labour's chairman of the Banking Inquiry, Ciarán Lynch.

Adding spice to the mix, this constituency is now a four-seater, ensuring at least one significant casualty.

Focusing firstly on the two Fianna Fáil candidates, it is a statistical dead heat between Micheál Martin and Michael McGrath, with the latter just edging it - McGrath is sitting pretty on 19pc of the vote, a hair's breadth shy of the quota, with his colleague also looking very secure with 17pc of the vote. Bragging rights may go to the Carrigaline-based finance spokesman.

More importantly, however, is that these results, if replicated on the day, would ensure at least one government casualty. However, there is more to this than meets the eye. FG and Labour are in danger of both losing a seat. The fly in the ointment for them is Sinn Féin's Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.

A relative newcomer, he is at 18pc at this stage, with polling conducted just a week out from the election. While there has been a suspicion that there is a potential left-wing vote in this constituency, these results will still be considered, by some, to have come in under the radar.

Simon Coveney, one of the most recognisable FG politicians, is also safe - he receives 17pc of the vote, and will be comfortably re-elected. Therefore, on the basis of these results, Jerry Buttimer, whose conduct during the same-sex marriage referendum endeared him to many, is in grave danger. He is attracting just 9pc at this juncture. Between himself and Coveney, Fine Gael muster 26pc of the overall vote, and fall far short of the required two quotas of 40pc. Contrast this with Fianna Fáil, with 36pc.

Boundary changes to Cork South-Central has arguably affected Buttimer's chances more than others.

For Ciarán Lynch, it would seem that the tide is against him (arguably reflecting the Labour Party overall). With just 6pc of the vote at this stage, there is simply too much ground for him to make up.

With such a gap between the four frontrunners, it would suggest that (based on this snapshot) transfers may not be as crucial as in other constituencies. Instead, it may be more instructive to look at how sure-footed voters are in their decision to vote for their chosen candidates.

Fifty nine per cent of those voting FF are absolutely certain in their decision, reinforcing the belief that its two seats are safe. Just over half (51pc) of those voting SF feel the same. Interestingly, the corresponding figure for Fine Gael is just 44pc.

Looking back over the past five years, Michael McGrath is the clear winner in terms of being the most effective TD for Cork South-Central - 27pc endorse him on this metric, followed by Simon Coveney who receives the nod from 16pc, and Micheál Martin (12pc).

The views of Fianna Fáil supporters on this issue is quite instructive. Even though they are evenly split in terms of their first preference vote, McGrath receives twice the levels of endorsements for constituency effectiveness among the party faithful (51pc vs 24pc).

In terms of the TD considered least effective, Ciarán Lynch is named by one-in-five (21pc) - another sign Cork South-Central is ready to jettison him.

Much has been said about the possibility of Michael McGrath one day leading the FF party. But that day may have to wait. While overall within the constituency, there is an even split as to whom is the preferred leader of Fianna Fáil (38pc McGrath vs 37pc Martin), among Fianna Fáil supporters, the picture is more concise: 53pc of them prefer Martin compared with 38pc for McGrath.

Of course, if the ball bounces unkindly for Fianna Fáil during the count next weekend, all bets would be off. Its party supporters may well bare their teeth very quickly. But if we use Cork South-Central as a bellwether, then Micheál Martin may be safe for a little bit longer.

Paul Moran is an associate director with Millward Brown.

Irish Independent

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