Tuesday 27 September 2016

Tánaiste's poll troubles bode ill for Labour as SF and FF hoping for breakthrough

Published 11/02/2016 | 02:30

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Dublin West candidate Jack Chambers of Fianna Fáil Photo: Arthur Carron

Within the walls of each count centre on February 27, the atmosphere will be tense and highly-charged.

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Political careers will be made and broken.

Three weeks of tireless campaigning will bear fruit, or feel like a worthless exercise. But there are a handful of constituencies where the outcome is more significant than others. One of these is Dublin West.

Our opinion poll has set the scene for the biggest political casualty of Election 2016.

Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton faces being unseated by a rising Fianna Fáil star 42 years her junior.

Step forward Jack Chambers - the young councillor now poised to take a seat in the four seat constituency.

Any such scenario would not only be a hammer blow for Burton, but it would have profound implications for the Labour Party and the prospect of Fine Gael and Labour forming a second consecutive coalition.

Chambers is quick to mention the name 'Brian Lenihan' when on the doorsteps.

And during our conversation, the medical student points out on seven occasions that he is looking to win back the seat previously held by the late Finance Minister.

"We are confident we will win the late Brian Lenihan's seat. We are getting a very positive response," he says.

But the 25-year-old councillor rejects suggestions that he is simply targeting Burton's vulnerable seat.

"This is not a case of me versus Joan, it is more complex than that."

A question that certainly is not complex is who will come out on top in a constituency where voters have already gone to the polls on three occasions in the past five years.

That accomplishment was always going to belong to Fine Gael's star media performer, Leo Varadkar.

But any hope of the Health Minister bringing his running mate, senator Catherine Noone, to the Dáil with him have been dashed if polling figures are correct.

Noone has managed to gain a profile in the Seanad as a result of some of her quirky proposals, including a no-fry zone around schools and the regulation of ice-cream vans.

But our poll shows that Varadkar's potential surplus is likely to benefit his Labour colleague rather than his party running mate.

The election will see Sinn Féin break through in many constituencies in the capital, including Dublin West.

The party's candidate, Paul Donnelly, was defeated in the 2014 by-election called following the decision by Independent TD Patrick Nulty to resign his Dáil seat.

He lost out to anti-austerity TD Ruth Coppinger.

A superb canvasser, Donnelly has a strong local organisation behind him and is likely to finish second behind Varadkar.

As the business end of proceedings commence, Chambers, Coppinger, Burton and Independent Alliance councillor David McGuinness will fight for the final two seats.

Although our poll places Coppinger central to the mix, she will be disappointed that her seat is at risk given the retirement of her confidante Joe Higgins, whose support base she would be expected to capture.

McGuinness quit Fianna Fáil in controversial fashion after being defeated in the selection convention by Chambers.

But the fact he is in with a fighting chance at taking the final seat illustrates both his ability, as well as the fact he has brought a chunk of support with him.

Burton will need to rely on her high profile, personal vote and Varadkar's surplus if she is to survive.

But she is no stranger to an electoral battle and only a fool would write her off.

PREDICTION: FG, SF, FF, LAB/AAA-PBP

Irish Independent

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