Tuesday 23 January 2018

Fine Gael to use Facebook as part of risky battle plan to salvage election

Parties get ready for the final election charge

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Fionnán Sheahan

Fine Gael is devising a risky battle-plan aimed at salvaging as many seats as possible.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's support levels are well below where the party expected to be just days out from polling.

As a result, Fine Gael strategists are drawing up a last ditch plan in numerous constituencies, which involves shifting votes from stronger candidates to weaker ones to try to drag them across the line.

The risky move will see senior TDs asked to jeopardise their own personal vote in the interests of the party.

But the party is also conceding some seats are beyond being rescued.

FG polling data, seen by the Irish Independent, shows the party in fights for a large number of seats, including shootouts with the Labour Party.

The party's plan is to make it competitive in the race for 60 seats - even though their poll ratings are tanking.

All parties admit the outcome of the election is massively unpredictable.

Senior party strategists, from Fine Gael, Labour, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, speaking to the Irish Independent over the past two days are unified on one point: the destination of final seats in practically every seat in the country is incredibly difficult to predict.

Fine Gael is devising strategies in a series of constituencies, which involves divides of territory and asking loyal supporters to vote for one candidate over another in a particular area.

Although this tactic has often been used in the past, it hasn't been employed in such large numbers before. And the decline in support levels make if far more difficult to pull off.

Constituency divides work more effectively when a party is on the way up.

On this occasion the party also plans to use social media such as Facebook to pinpoint loyal supporters. Voters in a particular urban area will be targeted with a video asking them to vote for one candidate over another in their area. In rural areas, letters will be sent out to give voters directions.

High-support-level TDs who will be asked to sacrifice votes for weaker running mates include:

  • Eoghan Murphy to Kate O'Connell in Dublin Bay South;
  • Richard Bruton to Naoise O Muirí in Dublin Bay North;
  • Michael Noonan to Kieran O'Donnell in Limerick;
  • Jim Daly to Noel Harrington in Cork South-West;
  • Paul Kehoe to Michael D'Arcy in Wexford.

Fine Gael strategists believe the party must be above 28pc at least in the election, whereas the last poll put it on 26pc.

"This is about maximising the seat numbers from the vote. We are actively pursuing a vote management strategy to maximise the vote," a source said.

Labour is banking on "locking down" its traditional core vote of 10pc and its TDs coming ahead of the second Fine Gael candidate to benefit from transfers.

"We are looking to those who want a centre-left progressive agenda," a source said.

Fianna Fáil is bullish and believes Fine Gael's weak performance puts in contention for seat gains.

"We hadn't anticipated the Fine Gael campaign would be as bad as it was. In many cases, it's a straight fight between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael," a source said.

"Kenny's tour is a give-away in terms of where they are under pressure."

Sinn Féin will also be using Facebook to ensure its voters turn up on polling day and is studying the mobilisation tactics used in the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum campaign.

"Getting the vote out on the day is fairly crucial for us," a source said.

Irish Independent

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