Adrian Kavanagh: Constituencies that the parties need to win today…
LOCAL elections are important contests in their own right, irrespective of what they may be indicating ahead of upcoming general elections, and, in turn, each local election contest has its own unique characteristics that distinguish it from those in other constituencies.
But, that being said, there are certain “barometer constituencies” that might be of especial interest for the different political parties, as the results in these might indicate how well they can expect to fare in other parts of a certain region, or indeed the rest of the state.
These constituencies may also be looked towards in terms of what the results in these might say about a challenging party’s chances of making a breakthrough in the larger Dáil constituency area at the next general election or a government’s party vulnerability in terms of potentially losing a Dáil seat, or even two Dáil seats, at that same general election contest.
Birr (Offaly): A combination of boundary changes (made in the 2012 Constituency Commission report), defections and declining support levels means that Fine Gael faces a challenge to hold seats in a number of (mainly three-seat) rural constituencies at the next general election, including the new Offaly constituency.
A strong Fine Gael vote in the western part of that constituency, which is mainly covered by the Birr electoral area, will be crucial in that regard. While there is no sitting Fine Gael County Councillor contesting Birr, a poor result here would not bode well for Marcella Corcoran Kennedy’s chances in Offaly at the next general election.
North Inner City (Dublin City): The result here might say a lot about Paschal Donohoe’s chances of holding his seat in the radically changed, and decidedly less middle class, Dublin Central at the next general election.
But it is also a useful barometer in terms of how Fine Gael might expect to fare in the other mainly working class constituencies in the Dublin region. If Fine Gael struggles to hold a seat in this eight-seat constituency with an experienced incumbent in Ray McAdam, then they must expect to face even greater struggles in smaller working class Dublin constituencies such as Crumin-Kimmage, Cabra-Finglas and Tallaght South.
Pembroke-South Dock (Dublin City): The old Dublin South East was traditionally one of Fianna Fáil’s weaker constituencies. Now renamed as Dublin Bay South, this continues to pose a significant challenge for the party, especially in the wake of Chris Andrews’ defection to Sinn Féin.
Fianna Fáil not hold a Council seat in the Pembroke-South Dock electoral area at present, but have hopes of gaining one, or even two, seats here with their Lorraine Clifford-Frank Chambers ticket. If Fianna Fáil can’t win here, then they’re unlikely to make a breakthrough in Dublin Bay South at the next general election and this may indicate that they could be facing a disappointing result overall in the Dublin area at these local elections.
East Cork (Cork County): While Fianna Fáil fared much better in rural Ireland than in the more urban areas in recent elections, there are number of rural constituencies where the party does not currently hold Dáil seats. One of these is Cork East and Fianna Fáil will be looking to good local election results in three local election constituencies that are mainly located within this; Cobh, Fermoy and East Cork.
Two town councillors, Aaron O'Sullivan and Niall O'Neill, contest East Cork and will be expected to gain at least one seat for the party in this electoral area – if not, the party might be facing an uphill struggle in Cork East at the next general election (and within the Cork region at large).
Cork City South West: Labour currently holds seven seats on Cork City Council and has an incumbent contesting each one of the six Cork City wards at these local elections, but the average constituency size is much smaller here than in the rest of the state making the party especially vulnerable to swings in their support levels.
The constituency in which Labour enjoys its best prospect of holding a seat is Cork City South West, although not helped by Michael Ahern’s retirement. A Ger Gibbons loss here might suggest that the party is at risk of losing its seats in all of the other Cork City wards.
Wexford: Labour will be hoping that the popularity of local TD might help them weather the storm in some constituencies at these local elections and at the next general election.
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Just as there might be hopes that the Penrose machine can pull off a strong result in the Mullingar-Coole and Mullingar-East electoral areas, there will also be hopes that Brendan Howlin’s profile can assist the party’s fortune in the Wexford (Town) electoral area. Given that this is a ten-seat constituency, Labour will have hopes of taking two seats here. If they take just one seat, they will be disappointed. If they fail to win any seat at all here, then they are facing into a national meltdown.
Galway City East: While Sinn Féin fared disappointingly in Dublin at the last local election, they party did well in some of the other cities but failed to win a seat in Galway City. With Sinn Féin looking to win a seat in Galway West at the next general election, they will need a strong result in Galway City in these elections.
Sinn Féin’s best chance of a seat is in Galway City East, where one of their youngest candidates, Mairéad Farrell, is in contention. It will be a disappointment for the party if she doesn’t win, but if she does especially well then the party might be in line to make further gains in the city.
Rathfarnham: If Sinn Féin is to make the next step in their political development in the Republic of Ireland, they will need to increase their support levels in the more middle class urban areas.
One of their best prospects is this regard lies in the Rathfarnham constituency, where Sarah Holland is their standard bearer. A strong result here might indicate that the party can make similar gains in other middle class constituencies, such as some of the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown electoral areas, but if Sinn Féin can’t win in Rathfarnham then they will probably find it difficult to pick up seats in other parts of middle class Dublin.
*Adrian Kavanagh is a lecturer in Department of Geography, NUI Maynooth.