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Dublin: 17 °C Tuesday 23 July, 2019
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From the Greens to exit polls: Here are the winners and losers of the elections

There are some very interesting takeaways from this batch of various votes.

THE ELECTIONS ARE all but done and dusted (no one mention Ireland South) – so what did we learn?

For a start, that transfers don’t always go where you expect them to, and exit polls aren’t gospel, especially if turnout is in doubt.

NB: An obvious list of winners and losers would be those elected vs those who weren’t -this is a bit more nuanced.

Winners

Saoirse McHugh

It’s quite a feat to be a star of a national election and to not get elected.  

But that’s what Saoirse McHugh did – after appearing on RTÉ’s Prime Time just three days before the election, she won over voters who hadn’t known of her before. 

At one point during that RTÉ debate, Peter Casey tried to speak over McHugh, who responded by saying: “Millionaires scapegoating migrants is an old trope and it’s boring.”

In the end, the Achill native got 50,000 first preference votes, and had 61,000 by the time she was eliminated in Count 11. Her appearance on Prime Time is thought to have also boosted the Greens’ Ciarán Cuffe’s vote in Dublin, where he topped the poll. 

With a general election on the cards for later this year, and after her comments pledging to quit the party if they went into coalition with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, all eyes are on where McHugh will focus her political capital next.

Local media

We can easily take for granted the extent of the wide network of dedicated local media that are dotted across the country – but they’re hard to miss on count day. 

Videoing the newly elected being hoisted onto shoulders, interviewing those who missed out about what went wrong, and following the nail-biting recounts that resulted in some councillors being elected by a margin of just one, they were the life-blood that pumped out updates in an seemingly endless election count.

A thank you from all national and Dublin-based journalists, and for those living in the capital that could watch updates from their home county (hello, East Coast FM). 

Naomi Long

European Parliament election Source: Liam McBurney

History was made when Naomi Long was elected as the first non-partisan MEP for Northern Ireland. Three women also occupy Northern Ireland’s three MEP seats for the first since the region became part of the European ideal.

Traditionally, Northern Ireland’s MEPs have been held by two unionists and one nationalist. The European Parliament had originally given the region two seats, but added a third so that nationalists would be represented.

Long’s win is a massive boon for the Alliance Party – giving citizens in Northern Ireland that don’t want to play a part in the partisan politics a chance to be represented, particularly with Brexit looming over the horizon.

Maria Walsh

We laughed at that Tamagotchi campaign video, but it – coupled with the not-so insignificant wave of support for Mairéad McGuinness – worked in the end, and Maria Walsh finished in the third seat in the Midlands-NorthWest area (ahead of incumbent MEP Matt Carthy). 

Despite an uninspiring Prime Time debate performance, Walsh held a widespread campaign where she vowed to represent the young generation that mobilised to campaign in favour of marriage equality, the Repeal the Eighth campaign, as well as struggling farmers and resource-starved communities in rural Ireland.

Rumours are abound that she might not even finish her five-year term in the European Parliament, as Varadkar might summon her to run for the Dáil in the not-too-distant general election.

Middle of the Road

Peter Casey

European Parliament election Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Finishing as a runner up in the Midlands Northwest constituency, Casey did far better in the final result than the RTÉ exit poll suggested. More people voted for him than was expected, even though they weren’t happy to admit it, even under anonymity.

Casey has now failed to be elected in two elections in the space of a year, but has finished on stronger numbers than most people would have expected.

He has said that he’s now setting his sights on the Dáil – will he win that round?

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil had a mixed election.

Its councillor candidates soared ahead in the local elections, making gains on the significant chunk of local authority seats they had previously held. Fine Gael also did well, but lost its hold in Dublin, which will worry the party leadership slightly.

In the European elections, Fianna Fáil didn’t fare as it would have liked. It ran five MEP candidates, and just two of them have been elected – one of whom, Barry Andrews, got the Dublin Brexit seat, which he can’t take up for some time.

Ahead of the election, Fianna Fáil was asked did it fear Peter Casey would suck votes away from its two candidates in the Midlands-NorthWest area, to which Mícheál Martin answered he wasn’t worried. After Casey finished well ahead of both those candidates, you’d have to say they probably should have been concerned.

Losers

Exit polls

The exit polls got it a bit wrong, especially on Saoirse McHugh winning a seat in the Midlands-NorthWest and the extent to which Ciarán Cuffe was ahead of the other candidates in Dublin (pre election polls had him at 11%, the exit poll put him at 23%, and the actual first preference result was 17%).

They also severely underestimated Luke Ming Flanagan and Peter Casey – but why?

Richard Colwell, of Red C Research, which conducted the exit poll for RTÉ, said the low turnout in Dublin was to blame.

“Dublin didn’t turn out, its turnout was lower than the rest of the country. There were only 22% of the electorate’s votes cast in Dublin, versus 26% in the rest of the country.”

The highest turnout was in Connaught and Ulster, where it reached over 50%. Colwell said that if turnout isn’t evenly spread or doesn’t match trends, then it skews the exit poll – and there isn’t much that can be done about that.

“We can’t predict turnout,” he said.

Eoghan Murphy

Eoghan Murphy wasn’t meant to be the story. 

But in a week where the election and ‘swinggate’ took over almost every conversation, his comments that co-living was an “exciting” opportunity for people still stuck.

Two days in a row, in the height of the counting on Saturday and Sunday, protesters gathered at the RDS and formed a circle around Murphy to call for his resignation and to chant “stick your co-living up your arse”. A clear message if ever there was one.

Sinn Féin

European Parliament election Matt Carthy, Michelle O'Neill, Mary Lou McDonald, Lynn Boylan and Martina Anderson at the launch of their Euro election manifesto. Source: Niall Carson

Well, I don’t think anyone would argue with this ranking.

Sinn Féin members themselves will be the first to admit that they had a bad election result. It lost 78 council seats, and lost two of its three MEP seats in Ireland (notwithstanding the recount in Ireland South, and Martina Anderson being reelected in the North).

Added to that, a number of councillors that resigned from the party in recent years, some of whom citing alleged bullying and other issues to do with management within the party, were reelected as independents.

The party leadership has said that it couldn’t get its members out to vote in this election; Lynn Boylan told RTÉ that Sinn Féin voters “couldn’t be bothered” going out to vote, and that the same level of anti-austerity “anger” wasn’t there. But looking at the Eoghan Murphy protest, you’d have to wonder if that was the only issue.

Interestingly, Solidarity-People Before Profit also fared badly in the elections, losing over half their total councillors, suggesting that the far-left voter’s support went elsewhere in this election, or just didn’t cast their vote at all.

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