Tuesday 23 January 2018

Martin facing mammoth struggle to break through 35-seat barrier

Decimated party faces major questions on ability to become serious challenger to FG by 2020

Leader of Fianna Fail Micheal Martin
Leader of Fianna Fail Micheal Martin

JOHN DRENNAN Political Editor

In 2011, Fianna Fail fell to its heaviest ever defeat, as it lost 58 seats from its 2007 election total.

Even prior to its record defeat, for the first time ever the party did not run enough candidates to win an overall majority.

This still did not save it from political humiliation, as the most successful party in the history of 20th-Century Western democracy struggled into third place, barely ahead of Sinn Fein, with 20 seats.

Given that the party suffered the indignity of not winning a seat in 25 of the 43 constituencies and won only one seat in the capital, it looked as though the only way was up for Fianna Fail.

But the stalling of the Fianna Fail revival at a lowly 22 per cent in the latest polls leaves Micheal Martin facing serious questions as to whether the party can acquire the critical mass to challenge the Coalition by 2020, let alone 2016.

Instead, the struggle being experienced by new candidates at a series of hotly contested conventions indicate the party is struggling to move significantly beyond the 35-seat figure.

This would leave Fianna Fail in a similar position to the scenario Enda Kenny inherited in 2002 where it took the Fine Gael leader two attempts and an unprecedented economic crisis to dethrone Fianna Fail.

The party will, on current support levels, hold what it has, but in five-seat constituencies such as Donegal and Carlow-Kilkenny, and Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail will struggle, even with a Labour implosion, to win a second seat.

At a national poll rating of 22 per cent, the party's hopes of regaining parity with Fine Gael in critical constituencies such as Clare would also be sunk, whilst the likelihood of gains in the Cork City constituencies would be slim.

The party is likely to gain a seat in former heartlands such as Cork East, Waterford and Cork South West, where it currently has none.

In Kerry, Wicklow and Tipperary, all of which are also now five-seat constituencies without Fianna Fail representatives, it should also regain a seat but its old dominance in such constituencies belongs, on current figures to history.

Fianna Fail will also struggle to regain its power in the former five-seat Laois-Offaly constituency, which has now been transformed into two three-seat constituencies.

It is though difficult, even in 'Cowen country', to see where Fianna Fail might win two seats in either constituency. In Galway West, the respective strengths of Sinn Fein and Fine Gael means any gain is unlikely while Fianna Fail is, on current support levels, unlikely to gain any seats in Galway East, Wexford, Mayo, or the two Limerick City and County constituencies where it currently holds one seat.

Fianna Fail, with the serious caveat of proper candidate selection, may win back a seat in Kildare North whilst, thanks to some of the political difficulties of Luke 'Ming' Flanagan it should at least contend in Roscommon.

History and tradition means it should also see gains in Sligo-Leitrim and in Meath East.

However it is not, on current seat support levels, likely to gain seats in key bellwether constituencies such as Louth, while in Meath West its fate may be decided by the real long-term intentions of Peadar Toibin.

In the electoral cockpit of Dublin, Fianna Fail will, particularly in three-seat constituencies, struggle to make anything more than the most modest of gains.

The party can expect to pick up seats in the five-seat constituencies of Dublin South West, Dublin Fingal and the new Dublin Bay North constituency.

It will, however, struggle to thrive in the three-seat constituencies, even in Bertie Ahern's former power base of Dublin Central, whilst its chances are slim in Dublin Rathdown and Dublin North West.

Even in four-seat constituencies such as Dublin Mid West, Dublin West, Dublin Bay South and Dun Laoghaire (which will be a three-seat constituency if Sean Barrett decides to remain in the 32nd Dail) the former kings of Dublin will have a difficult struggle.

They are likely to regain a seat in Dublin West, but the complex constituencies of Mid West and Dublin Bay South may be more problematic than the party thinks.

Such a set of factors mean that as of now Fianna Fail is poised to win a maximum of 35 seats and the revival might even be more problematic.

The road back is certainly a long one.

Irish Independent

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