John Drennan: Gilmore gale may be just a lot of hot air as parties battle it out
There may be trouble ahead . . .
In political terms the plethora of national opinion polls last week was the equivalent of air warfare.
However, whilst airplane pilots may get all the glamour, every soldier knows it is the firefights in the ground war that decides the identity of the victors. And often what is occurring on the ground is very different to what is occurring up there in the skies.
This is certainly the case when it comes to our series of geographically spread Quantum Research constituency opinion polls.
They indicate that when the voters are presented with real names on a ballot paper previously held enthusiasms for Gilmore-led gales and SF surges tend to decline.
It is, after all, not by accident that the Irish have secured the reputation of being the most conservative electorate in Europe.
However, the polls indicate that one revolutionary development is becoming a distinct possibility.
Rather like Denis Johnston's play The Old Lady Says No!, Fine Gael continues to protest that nothing would appal them more than the prospect of going into government without the company of their dear friends in Labour.
However, the polls done by the Sunday Independent suggest that rather like FF in 2002, it is protesting far too much.
Fine Gael will need everything to go right and, when it comes to certain key gains, it is being pressed hard by FF and Labour, but strange things are happening.
Nothing epitomises this more than the state of play in our first constituency.
If Dun Laoghaire was a microcosm of the rest of Dublin then FF would struggle to win more than five seats. After 'Don't Knows' are excluded, Mary Hanafin (11 per cent) and Barry Andrews (7 per cent) are, in terms of votes, a day late and a dollar short.
But whilst the Fianna Fail vote is down 17 percentage points, Eamon Gilmore has his own troubles. Mr Gilmore, with a massive 32 per cent, may have almost 20,000 votes in the bag but the low 4 per cent poll rating of Ivana Bacik means that he has a Bertie- style problem.
A large number of these votes will go to Ivana but enough of them will stray in the direction of FG and the celebrity socialist Richard Boyd Barrett to mean it is unlikely the well-travelled Labour candidate will win the seat.
In contrast the Fine Gael team of Sean Barrett (22 per cent) and Mary Mitchell O'Connor (10 per cent) may have 4 per cent less of the vote than Labour, but the better positioning of the candidates means they are on course to win two seats.
Mr Gilmore will need to learn the art of vote management and do so quickly.
When it comes to the Greens the figure of 1 per cent for Green minister Ciaran Cuffe will send an ominous signal about the likely fate of Eamon Ryan in the very similar Dublin South constituency.
He might not like it but Mr Gormley had better get used to the smell of incinerated Greens.
Intriguingly, Boyd Barrett, who is polling at 9 per cent, has made no advance on his 2007 showing.
However, if he can stay sufficiently ahead of Ivana on the first count the last seat will be fought out between Barrett, Ivana and Mary Hanafin. The problem for FF's deputy leader is that which-ever one of Bacik or Barrett goes first will transfer heavily to the other.
Unless FF can pull up in the polls, Mary is 500 votes short.
There is a rare piece of good news here for FF. Such is the state of the party in Dublin there were rumours that even Lenihan's seat was not safe. But with 24 per cent support FF's best barrister will survive.
In contrast, his poor running mate has 1 per cent but that happens when you share a constituency with an SC.
The most significant feature of this constituency in terms of the overall Dublin result is the respective performances of Joan Burton (22 per cent) and Leo Varadkar (32 per cent).
This, when combined with the seriously disappointing performance of Joe Higgins, who at 10 per cent is down 4 points from his vote in 2007 when he lost his seat, has created the astonishing scenario where, should he get any decent level of transfers at all from Leo Varadkar, the first time FG candidate Kieran Dennison would be fighting it out with Joe 'the people's champion' Higgins for the last seat.
Seeing as Mr Dennison has a mere 2 per cent in the polls, were he to win it would be a miracle of Cyprian Brady-style proportions. However, FG with 34 per cent of the vote is as close as you can get to two quotas.
Quare things happen in Irish elections and if Leo can learn to share (or if the swing to FG continues) Joe may yet lose out unless those capitalist stooges of the Labour Party come to the rescue via the transfers of Labour's Pat Nulty.
CORK SOUTH CENTRAL
There is some more good news for FF here for, with 19 per cent of the vote, Cork's darling boy Micheal Martin is, as of now, sure of a seat.
Micheal the 'sly fox' will not be leaving his Cork gardens untended for long because Michael 'the Young Pretender' McGrath is sidling up behind him with an impressive 14 per cent.
The geography of the constituency means it would not take much of a swing for Micheal to suffer the indignity of being passed out by Mc Grath. Should there be a further lurch to FG and a swing against FF, then FF could be in terrible trouble.
In another disappointing result, Labour's Ciaran Lynch (9 per cent) and Paula Desmond (6 per cent) will have a seat between them.
Sinn Fein with 7 per cent is going nowhere whilst in another chilling result for the Greens, Dan Boyle, who was in contention for the last seat in 2007, will struggle to poll more than a thousand votes.
The really interesting figures here, however, are for FG which has a stunning 40 per cent of the vote. It means FG is sure of two seats but were it to add another 5 points the party would be in the running for three.
And the even better news is that the seat it would be most likely to secure is Labour's Ciaran Lynch.
Outside of needing the 5 points to ensure that Cork gets a minister, the great problem it faces is that the town's aspiring merchant prince Simon Coveney has way too many votes with 27 per cent of first preferences. Still we are sure that if sacrifices have to be made to ensure Cork gets a minister, Simon will have no problem with engaging in acts of charity with the local FG working class hero Jerry Buttimer.
If he doesn't, Cork might only have a junior minister.
Definitely a case here of 'the old order changeth giving way to the new'. For two decades Willie O'Dea has been the political boss of his Limerick parish. In this election, however, O'Dea (23 per cent) is going to suffer the indignity of being outpolled by Michael Noonan who will, with 31 per cent, secure a Bertie- style quota-and-a-half.
Fine Gael's Kieran O'Donnell will be concerned over his relatively lacklustre 9 per cent, which represents a fall from his vote in 2007. The hard-working frontbencher will be even more unenthusiastic over the late independent candidacy of the former FG Mayor of Limerick Kevin Kiely.
However, Noonan's huge surplus and the absence of a Labour surge means he is safe.
With two seats in Limerick and a possible three in Cork South Central, FG is poised to be extremely strong in Munster.
In contrast, Labour's performance in Limerick where Jan O'Sullivan (16 per cent) and Joe Leddin (9 per cent) have a quota between them suggests Labour's gains in Munster will be modest.
When it comes to the worst of the rest, Peter Power (6 per cent) and SF's Maurice Quinlivan of (4 per cent) are dead men walking.
If FG is to even have a notion of single-party government it is going to have to win three seats in constituencies like Cavan-Monaghan.
The news here for FF is devastating. Brendan Smith, whose vote has dropped by 66 per cent since 2007, will just about scrape over the line.
But the party's talented young deputy Margaret Conlon, who won 9,303 votes in the same election, will struggle to win more than 3,000 votes.
There's no SF surge here either for Caoimhghin O Caolain, who has a quota, and his running mate, who has nothing.
The real story here though is FG. The party was criticised for running a four-person ticket. But with 47 per cent of the vote it has three quotas.
Joe O'Reilly and Heather Humphreys will win two seats whilst the last seat will be between Labour's Liam Hogan (8 per cent) who is performing well and FG's two candidates.
FG has the edge but geography and transfers will be the Moby Dick that will decide in a very tight race.
Can Enda do what Biffo couldn't and win a big four seats for FG?
The astonishing answer is 'Yes he can!' but the notoriously cautious FG leader will have to learn to share.
At 61 per cent -- an 8 point increase from FG's performance in 2007 -- the party is close to having enough votes to elect the big four.
The problem though is that Kenny's 35 per cent share of the vote, which would see the FG leader securing an astonishing 25,000 votes, is too high.
Mind you, when Michael Ring (12 per cent) sees how many votes Enda has he'll be starting off on the redistribution stakes fairly sharpish.
The concern for FG will be that either Michelle Mulherin (8 per cent) or John O'Mahony (6 per cent) will be left stranded.
In spite of the very belated addition of Lisa Chambers, FF will just about secure enough votes for a single seat.
Instead the main fly in the ointment for Enda's dream will come from the 22 per cent that a raggle taggle band of Jerry Cowley, the two SF candidates and a collection of independents and Greens have secured.
Though either the independent Michael Kilcoyne or Labour's Jerry Cowley will contend for the final seat, the disparate nature of this group means that FG is in the box office seats when it comes to winning a fourth.
It will, however, fear Kilcoyne far more than Cowley.
Nothing epitomises the changed relationship between the FF and FG parties than the sight of a FG Flanagan beating a Cowen from FF out of the gate in the Laois-Offaly constituency.
Less than a decade ago in the great rout of 2002, Charlie Flanagan lost his seat to Tom 'the PD carpet bagger' Parlon.
Though he returned in 2007, little had changed. Flanagan still trailed in 10,000 votes behind Brian Cowen's 19,102 tally.
Back then FF was promising 'we'll go for four in 2012'.
Well it's 2011 and the collapse of the FF vote means that in the constituency which has consistently returned three FF TDs since 1977, the party is now likely to only get one.
Perhaps the real shock result here is the performance of Labour candidate John Whelan. Pundits believed that SF's Brian Stanley was a racing certainty to get a seat but the man who makes Aengus O Snodaigh look charismatic is behind Whelan on first preferences and is transfer repellent.
It is not all blue skies for Flanagan though. With more than 14,000 votes he may be 5,000 ahead of Barry Cowen, but if Charlie wants a Merc he is going to have to bring two friends with him.
It is a measure of the extent of the secret swing to FG that he will come very close for the two Offaly candidates are, with 19 per cent, polling higher than FF.
FF is sure of a humiliating single seat, FG will win two and the last two seats will be fought out between FG, Labour, SF and FF's Sean Fleming. It will be tight but the smart money suggests that FG and Labour will just about scrape home.
Yet another collapse for FF occurs here as its only seat is secured courtesy of Seamus Kirk's automatic re-election because of his status as Ceann Comhairle.
With a mere 15 per cent first preference total, the party's dire performance must raise questions about its capacity to win seats even in five-seat constituencies.
In contrast, FG with a massive (by Louth standards) 38 per cent of the vote will win two seats.
Labour is sure of a seat whilst, as in every other constituency we have polled, the fancied Green candidate Mark Dearey performs miserably.
We suspect that Baron Adams will not be too happy, for with a lacklustre 17 per cent of the poll he will have to wait for a couple of counts before being elected.
It makes a bit of a difference from the Stalinist certainties of West Belfast, doesn't it Gerry.
The differences between constituency and national polling can be summarised by the old dichotomy between theory and practice.
In theory our voters are flirting with a SF/independent/Labour red tide.
But when faced with the face on the ballot paper other more parochial factors such as organisation and familiarity come into play.
The Quantum Research constituency polls certainly paint a significantly different national picture to some of last week's national polls.
In particular they suggest that FG's organisational advantage means it is far closer to the Shangri-La of single party government than many think.
Ironically the main obstacle to this objective is its supposed Labour party ally.
As FF faces into the abyss, bellwether constituencies such as Cavan-Monaghan, which also suggest the SF tide is receding, indicate that it may well be a close run thing for Labour is still performing well but in a Spring tide rather than a Gilmore gale sort of fashion.
Sadly, the poor misfortunate Greens have been caught up in the scaffolding of the collapse of the Government and will, after this election, have less political representatives than Michael Lowry's independent Tipperary organisation.
It is, of course, not all good news for FG for our polls also indicate that the young Turks (and some older ones too) may have to learn lessons in the delicate art of vote sharing.
The party is agonisingly close to securing an unprecedented three seats in Cavan- Monaghan, Laois-Offaly, and Cork South Central whilst in Dublin West it is close to pulling off a major shock.
Ironically in at least three of these constituencies it is Labour rather than the beaten FF dockets that are standing in its way.
Expect the exchanges between the putative coalition partners to get even sharper next week.
Mind you it would also not surprise us if honeyed words, laced with a tart piece of poison, will be whispered into certain ears by 'Cute Oul' Phil Hogan about how too much egotism in the constituency means you will only get a half Mercedes when FG is in charge of the country.