Dozen seats to be won and lost on transfers

Published May 25th 2007 in Irish Examiner
The final seats that decide the balance of power in the 30th Dáil will come down to the crucial but volatile system of vote transfers.

Now that first counts are being completed, party strategists will be anxiously studying which candidates get second, third and lower preferences on ballot papers.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) part of the Proportional Representation (PR) system gives a sharper insight into the behaviour of voters than any other voting method.

Experts believe that up to a dozen marginal seats in this election will be decided by transfer votes.

Fine Gael and Labour will expect to pick up more preferences than in the 2002 General Election because of a clear voting pact for their 'Alliance for Change' alternative.

However history has also shown that smaller parties in voting pacts usually get squeezed by their bigger partners.

Fianna Fáil’s electoral machine seems to have allowed little room for any transfer pattern.

Shrewd management of its votes in most constituencies has ensured many candidates were ahead at the first count.

But Fine Gael deputy leader Richard Bruton said today: “I think there will be a solid transfer rate across non-Fianna Fáil parties. A lot of seats will go towards the Alliance for Change that this stage may look in doubt.

“I think there will be an anti-government solidarity among Opposition parties out there.”

Party MEP Gay Mitchell agreed: “I believe the Fine Gael and Labour transfers will work quite smoothly.”

But a Labour Party insider was less optimistic: “Fianna Fáil has managed its vote very well in many constituencies. It will be increasingly difficult for Opposition candidates to catch out anybody down the line with transfers.”

Trinity College politics expert Prof Michael Marsh said Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens should profit from transfers because they are more closely-aligned than previous elections.

“If there are battles for the last seat in constituencies, you would expect the main Opposition parties to help each other out on the ballots.

“You also have to factor in the larger-than-expected turnout which seems to indicate that parties like Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael succeeded in getting out their traditional core vote unlike in 2002.”

Transfers helped Green TD John Gormley defeat Michael McDowell by just 27 votes in Dublin South East in a famous week-long battle in 1997.

Only six votes separated Fianna Fáil TD John Dennehy from Independent Kathy Sinnott in Cork South Central in 2002.

Similarly, Sinn Féin’s Nicky Kehoe lost out by just 74 votes to Dermot Fitzpatrick of Fianna Fáil in Dublin Central in the same poll.