Sunday 26 March 2017

Only eight seats safe for FF ahead of next election

Latest poll points to bloodbath for the party as leadership hopefuls find themselves in firing line

John Drennan

John Drennan

ONLY eight Fianna Fail TDs are 'safe' after the collapse in support for the party, as revealed by the latest TV3 opinion poll.

The implosion in the party's support means that none of its other 63 TDs can be sure of being re-elected. On the basis of last week's poll, Fianna Fail is poised to lose a minimum of 40 seats.

At the party's present standing in the polls, the only TDs whose seats are safe are: Taoiseach Brian Cowen; former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern; Tanaiste Mary Coughlan; Finance Minister Brian Lenihan; Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv and Limerick TD Willie O'Dea.

The Ceann Comhairle, Seamus Kirk, would be automatically re-elected and this would mean that his running mate in Louth, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, would also be safe.

Amongst Fianna Fail ministers, those who are seen to be in dire trouble include possible leadership candidates Micheal Martin, who has fared poorly in private polls in Cork, and Mary Hanafin in Dublin.

Outside of the two Green ministers, who are in serious electoral trouble, and former PD Mary Harney, other ministers who are facing the axe include the deeply unpopular Brendan Smith at Agriculture, as well as Pat Carey, Tony Killeen, Noel Dempsey and Cowen loyalists such as Batt O'Keeffe.

Nor will the bloodbath be confined to senior ministers. A large coterie of talented younger Fianna Fail junior ministers and TDs are facing the electoral guillotine.

These include: Conor Lenihan; Dara Calleary; John Curran; Darragh O'Brien; Barry Andrews; Niall Collins; Michael McGrath; Sean Fleming and Sean Connick, as well as respected senior TDs, such as Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, John O'Donoghue and John Cregan.

Such is the scale of the party's demise that even high-profile anti-Cowen figures, such as John McGuinness and Sean Power may be caught up in the slaughter.

The current fractious mood within the party is likely to be worsened by the scale of anticipated losses and by the unique electoral scenario whereby Fianna Fail TDs will be fighting amongst themselves for the last seat in a number of constituencies.

This strategic problem the party faces is epitomised by constituencies such as Dun Laoghaire, where Minister Mary Hanafin and the lightly regarded Children's Minister Barry Andrews will be battling to secure the single seat that might, on current figures, be available to FF.

This problem is likely to blight Fianna Fail's prospects in all three-seat constituencies, whilst it will also be struggling to win a seat in many of the State's four-seat constituencies.

Party headquarters will try to impose discipline, but as one veteran electoral strategist noted: "You can forget gender quotas, bringing on youth or splitting constituencies -- this election is going to be every man for himself."

The losses may also be enhanced by the phenomenon of 'grey flight', whereby experienced TDs will opt for handsome severance and pension packages, rather than face the humiliation of defeat.

The scale of the collapse also means large swathes of the country may be left without any FF representation.

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