Ireland’s Super Tuesday

For the last few months some people have been complaining about how impossible, unfair and stitched up the Irish presidential nomination process can be. True, these were mainly people aligned to one candidate or another, but even so, at least they cannot say now that is not exciting.

The massive flurry of activity in Council chambers across the country has been something to behold. Meetings have been called at the last minute in Councils from Donegal to Waterford and from Cork to Dublin.

They have become like our very own mini Primaries and Caucuses – mirroring those in theUSAwhere each States holds primary elections to mandate delegates in each of the two main parties to select their respective Presidential Candidates.

With eight Councils meeting today, this could be described as our own “Super Tuesday”.  Just as in the States, today will decide the fate of the two remaining ballot paper hopefuls.

I am not sure if this is ironic or just a symptom of poor campaigning, but one of the candidates, Dana Rosemary Scallon is the last one into the field, while the other Senator David Norris was the first one in, having launched his campaign as far back as March.

Back on May 9th Sen Norris was the first candidate to get Council backing, in his case Fingal. He only had to wait a mere twenty weeks to pick up his second one, securing the backing of Laois County Council yesterday. But, as we all know, a great deal has happened in those twenty weeks.

Highlighting the drama of his situation only three individual votes yesterday separated the Senator from his goal. First, te lost Carlow Council on the casting vote of the Fine Gael Chairman and then he went on to be defeated in Dublin South Council 11 – 12. Two more votes, or rather two more abstentions, from Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin would have made all the difference.

On the other side, Dana managed to take two Councils in quick succession. Norris’s loss in Carlow was her gain plus support from Roscommon. Today she turns her sights on Donegal, Longford and Westmeath, two of which backed her at her previous bids for the office.

One indicator of how Councillors might vote at the Council meetings today can be gleaned from last Sunday’s Business Post/RedC Opinion Poll.  Fortunately, for sad political junkies like me, the pollsters used two sample ballot papers – one without Norris and Dana on it and another with both included.

On the face of it Norris’s nomination today would not only see the race having a new front runner, it would also damage the campaigns of the candidates from the two Government parties. According to the Poll Michael D Higgins could lose up one third of his support to Norris, while Mitchell, who cannot afford to slip much more, could haemorrhage anywhere in the region of one quarter of his support to him.

Expect the Fine Gael and Labour Councillors to weight this possible outcome carefully when they consider how they will vote today, particularly when it comes to backing Norris. The outcomes will depend on how these considerations are balanced against the fear of a backlash against those who kept Norris out of the race.

Not that Higgins and Mitchell are the only ones affected by an expansion of the field. The entrance of Norris and Dana to the race could see Mary Davis lose up to a third of her support, Sean Gallagher lose about one quarter of his and Martin McGuinness lose about  a fifth.

In the case of these three, their capacity to influence the outcomes today will not be anywhere as great as for the two main parties. Plus their supporters will also want to size up if the damage done to the FG and lab candidates outweighs the impact on theirs.

Later this evening, as our Super Tuesday draws to a close with votes in Dublin Corporation and Cavan County Council we should know the final outcome. But, if not there is always Average Wednesday’s early morning’s meeting of Kilkenny County Council.

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