There’s a general election coming at some point. And when it comes, the calculus for candidates running in two Dublin constituencies will be a little different than it was the last time around, in 2016.
Changes recommended by the independent Constituency Commission have redrawn some Dublin constituencies, particularly Dublin Central and Dublin North-West. It’s unclear exactly what the impacts of these changes will be.
But there is one thing that does seem clear: Dublin North-West TD Noel Rock, of Fine Gael, has been hurt.
“Noel Rock has lost out on votes due to changes, so that leaves him vulnerable,” says Adrian Kavanagh, lecturer in geography at Maynooth University. (Rock didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
As for who might benefit from the changes, that depends on the overall trends in the next election, says Kavanagh. “If there is a swing to Fianna Fáil, then changes could put them in line for gains in Dublin Central and Dublin North-West.”
Or if there is a major swing towards Sinn Féin, then the changes could potentially put them in the running for second seats in those constituencies, he says.
Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon, who came fourth in Dublin Central in 2016, says he’s happy with the changes. Independent Councillor Christy Burke is one to watch too, if he decides to run again. (When he ran in 2016, he said it was his last try.)
The Constituency Commission
After each census, the government can ask the independent Constituency Commission to examine the boundaries to make sure that they are fair. That is, that they have the right number of TDs for their population.
Since the 2016 census, the commission has found that in Dublin Central and Dublin North-West, there were too many people per TD.
To fix this problem, they recommended transferring parts of Drumcondra and Glasnevin from Dublin North-West into Dublin Central, and to add another seat to that constituency. They also decided to transfer a Drumcondra electoral ward that’s now in the Dublin Bay North constituency into Dublin Central.
The changes were introduced in the Dáil as a bill, and on 23 December, President Michael D. Higgins signed that bill into law.
Fianna Fáil candidate Mary Fitzpatrick, who ran in 2016, hopes she’ll benefit the next time around from the constituency changes. Some of the areas set to join that Dublin Central are her natural heartland, she says.
“A good portion of the area, I was previously elected to represent as a city councillor, is being brought back in,” she says. “I live there, my kids play for the local GAA club, I have very good connections there.”
She won the third most first-preference votes in Dublin Central in 2016, but wasn’t elected in the three-seater. This was “very frustrating,” she says. “I out-polled two sitting TDs and was in third place in the first count, I just lost out on the transfers.”
Transfer-friendly independent Maureen O’Sullivan came from seventh place in the first preference votes to win the third seat on transfers.
“It was a very strange outcome,” says Fitzpatrick, “considering [Labour’s] Joe Costello was an outgoing government minister, Christy Burke outgoing lord mayor of Dublin [and a], very well-known figure”, and neither of them made the cut.
There are rumours that in the next election Fine Gael will run a second candidate in Dublin Central, says Fitzpatrick.
She speculates that both Fine Gael and Sinn Féin will look to capitalise on their high-profile TDs in Dublin Central. Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe is Minister for Finance, while Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald is taking over as her party’s leader.
“With both of them being very senior members of their parties, their parties will probably be looking for them to deliver a second seat,” she says.
The Fine Gael leadership should be happy with the changes. Even though they might lose Noel Rock, they should secure Donohoe’s seat, as parts of the areas transferring into Dublin Central are traditional Fine Gael territory, she says.
Ultimately though she doesn’t think Fine Gael, Sinn Féin or Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon will profit from the changes, she says. But she thinks independent Councillor Christy Burke would be a serious contender, if he runs.
“He’s a real veteran, I wouldn’t write Christy off,” she says.
Burke came fifth in Dublin Central in 2016. As he sees it, there are two seats up for grabs in that constituency in the next election.
“Paschal [Donohoe] and Mary Lou [McDonald] look very likely candidates to be elected,” he says. “Then you have two seats which will be fought out between everyone else.”
When Burke started out in politics, Dublin Central included Inchicore and ran all the way up to Cherry Orchard. “It was a five-seater in my day,” he says.
Burke, now an independent, was first elected to what was then the Dublin Corporation in 1985 as a Sinn Féin representative. Since then, elections have become a lot more unpredictable, he says.
“Young people know what they want,” he says. “They no longer vote the same way as their parents.”
The areas that are due to become part of Dublin Central are ones that Burke has represented in the past, because the local election boundaries keep changing, he says. “It is like ‘Lanigan’s Ball’, you’re stepping in and stepping out again,” he says, laughing.
Constant changes to the electoral boundaries, especially for local elections, mean that you have to be able to work fast and get on top of local issues in new areas, he says. “It could be a new road people are looking for,” he says. “You have got to get in and get a handle on it – but I quite enjoy it.”
Burke turns 70 this year, so will he be running at the next election? “If it is this year I’ll run again,” he says. “I have my crew standing by since Christmas.”
He won’t be drawn out on who is likely to take that new, extra seat. “There is no way of saying what the impact of the changes will be, but transfers will be important,” he says.
But he says he is certain that Labour’s Joe Costello won’t make the cut, even with the extra seat. “He won’t be elected. I’ll put €1,000 on it,” he says.
Gannon, who polled fourth in Dublin Central in 2016, says “there is absolutely no way of knowing” who will get the extra seat there in the next election.
He says he’s happy with the constituency changes though. He went to school in Drumcondra, and his partner is from there, he says. “Drumcondra is an area I’m very comfortable with.”
Whether it’s three- or four-seat constituency doesn’t really matter, says Gannon. “The game is still the same,” he says. “You have to knock on people’s doors and convince them to vote for you.”
The areas being transferred into Dublin Central probably aren’t home to a high proportion of Sinn Féin voters, he says, so that party’s unlikely to run a second candidate in the constituency. But he thinks Fine Gael might well run a second, Drumcondra-based, candidate.
Each of the candidates we spoke to mentioned that the Fine Gael TD for Dublin North-West, Noel Rock, is the worst affected by the changes. (Assuming he runs again.)
Rock was quoted in the Irish Times, as saying that he is losing 20 percent of his voters “at the stroke of a pen”, as he has a lot of support in the parts of Dublin North-West that are being transferred to Dublin Central under the redrawn boundaries.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Paul McAuliffe polled fourth in three-seater Dublin North-West in 2016. He got slightly more first-preference votes than Rock, and remained just ahead of him in the counts until the ninth, when Rock was elected.
McAuliffe hopes to benefit from the changes to the boundaries. He says his voter base is spread out across the constituency, whereas Rock’s is in certain parts of it. “I absolutely believe that the boundary change has been really positive for us, and we will win a seat,” he says.
But McAuliffe acknowledges that Rock has the advantage of being a sitting TD, which gives him a higher profile and much greater access to the media, says McAuliffe. “Incumbency is a difficult thing to shift.”