Tuesday 20 March 2018

Labour ready to downsize in bid to hang on to 20 Dáil seats

Joan Burton
Joan Burton
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

Tánaiste Joan Burton's Labour Party is preparing to radically downsize its number of candidates for the General Election as it readies itself for significant losses.

Senior party sources have said they hope the party could get between 10pc and 12pc of the vote, which they feel could deliver them 20 seats after the election.

That means they expect to lose as many as 12 of their TDs, and amid such discussions there are increasing fears within the party that some sitting TDs could be deselected in order to salvage as many seats as possible.

Party strategists and advisers are adopting a "greatly consolidated and reduced" approach to the number of candidates across constituencies as the party prepares for life as a vastly reduced party.

The Irish Independent has learned that the party hierarchy feels it is preferable that they run one candidate in most if not all constituencies, rather than running multiple candidates.

In most constituencies, that one candidate will be an incumbent.

Unlike 2011, where many new faces emerged, this would mean no room for party senators or councillors to challenge for a seat.

"The strategy will be built around existing party Oireachtas members," said one senior party figure last night.

The party is facing dilemmas in several key Dublin constituencies where it has two TDs, but at best can hope to return with just one.

While party handlers have said there is a tradition of not precluding sitting TDs from standing, the risk of allowing both candidates run is of splitting the vote and stopping both candidates from getting elected.

For example, in the Dublin Mid-West constituency, where the party has two TDs in Robert Dowds and Joanna Tuffy, there is a recognition within the party that it can, at best, retain one seat.

Again, the party has two sitting TDs in Dublin South West - former minister Pat Rabbitte and Eamonn Maloney.

There is a belief that should Mr Rabbitte decide to stand, then a way should be found for Mr Maloney to not stand.

A similar problem exists in the new five-seat Dublin Bay North constituency, which junior minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and TD Sean Kenny now share. Again, it is certain that both cannot get elected, so Mr Kenny could be targeted for elimination.

There is also likely to be disappointment for Cork-based Senator John Gilroy. If junior health minister Kathleen Lynch decides to contest the Cork North Central constituency, then she will be the only Labour candidate on the ticket. Mr Gilroy polled well in 2011, getting 6,500 first-preference votes.

The party's thinking will also be shaped by whether Mr Rabbitte and former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore decide to stand.

Party strategists recognise the pressure on Labour TDs is far more acute this time around, as they will be far less transfer friendly on the left than they have been in the past.

"We simply won't get the transfers from the left we used to, given Sinn Féin and the hard-left independents. They simply wont be there this time," one party figure said.

There are fears Ms Burton and her key advisers could move to de-select people from running, but last night party handlers played down the chances of this. They said there was "not a tradition" of de-selecting sitting TDs from the ticket, so it is unlikely that Ms Burton will force any of her team off the field.

After she replaced Eamon Gilmore as leader and Tánaiste last summer, there was some annoyance within the party at the lack of a 'Burton Bounce' in the polls.

Before Christmas, the party had fallen as low as 5pc in the polls, having achieved 19pc and 37 seats at the 2011 General Election.

With a succession of improving poll ratings in recent weeks, the party is hoping it can get between 10pc and 12pc in the election, which could see the party return with 20 seats, a drop of 12 seats.

How the political landscape looks:

Fine Gael: Returned in 2011 with 76 seats. Following expulsions and the loss of ministers Brian Hayes and Phil Hogan to Europe, they now have 68 TDs. The party is targeting 30pc of the vote, which would give them about 60 seats, a loss of eight.

Labour: Came back in 2011 with a record 37 seats. A raft of defections and walkouts have seen their numbers fall to 32. Party sees 10pc and 20 seats as a realistic target.

Fianna Fáil: Under pressure and stagnant in polls, it is clear FF is aiming for another stint in opposition. Party figures hope it can achieve 40 seats, enough to make it the lead opposition party.

Sinn Féin: Doubts remain as to their ability to deliver on their good poll ratings. Have been rattled since arrival of Paul Murphy into the Dáil. Aiming to get close to 30 seats at next election.

Renua: The new kid on the block. At 2pc in various polls, Lucinda Creighton will be hoping to advance on that to justify all her hard work. Could yet hold the balance in a tight Dáil shake-up.

Independents: Unhappiness with party politics has seen their numbers soar. There could be 40 in next Dáil. Daniel McConnell

Irish Independent

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