Following the Irish election, at home and abroad

June 7th, 2009 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

This is the first Irish election in many years where I have not been following the results from the counting centre. I remember in 1987 heading in to see the last few hours of the Galway-West count, as Michael D. regained his seat in the Dáil. There’s something special for a political junkie, watching the count unfold, with flurries of excitement between long hours of waiting and speculation.

The technologies in use have changed through the years. When I started tallying, we collated the master tally on paper; within a few years, most parties were using Excel or similar. Sometimes someone would bring in a small portable television, and people of all parties would gather around it when there was a particularly momentous development relayed through RTÉ. In the last election or two there was an increasing amount of SMS messages and calls to friends in other count centres, as well as some activity on sites like politics.ie.

Fast-forward to this election, and how things have changed. Although I’m missing hanging out at the count, and the catching up with old friends that that entails, there’s been a constant stream of data online. I gather from disgruntled voices that RTÉ’s web presence has been far better than their (intermittent) broadcast coverage, so I’ve been able to keep up on the running totals of seats won by each party, and to drill down to individual councils if and when I desired.

Even better has been the coverage at IrishElection.com, where they’ve been collating a mix of twitter-style feeds and original content. Moderated, so none of the to-and-fro sniping and off-topic rambling you get on the more traditional web forums, but still with a bit of character to it. As Simon McGarr, in common with several others has noted, “it has outperformed any other source of information and original reporting in the entire country.” Pointers outward to various analyses of progress in different areas, or other bits and pieces. Also – and this brings us back to the technology issue – the feed includes pointers to Alexia Golez’s live video snippets from the Dublin count centre. Using Qik’s phone-to-web tool, she’s able to provide real-time streams of the results, which are then archived online. I leave the window open, and whenever she starts to ‘broadcast’ it starts up in my browser.

Between all of this, I’ve been able to keep a steady stream – or at least a steady drip – of information coming my way, and to have a mix of solid reports and the rumours and analysis that are such an integral part of the process. However, there’s only so much that the internet can do, which was why I was grateful to the friend who thought to call me late last night, after coming home from the Galway count (which finished around 3:30am), to give me an update from there, and share the free-ranging discussion and speculation that I was missing.

Some other thoughts:

  • Some political junkies have complained about the lack of live coverage on RTÉ television, in particular, but also on the other broadcast outlets. I think there’s a role for more regular reports, but the play-by-play is mainly of interest to insiders and junkies, and will be of limited importance, compared to the final results, or the overall trends, once those results are finalized in a day or two. It seems reasonable to taper off the constant live coverage as the results from the counts turn to a trickle, while continuing to provide data on the web, or by SMS/twitter, as RTÉ, at least, has done.
  • One shortcoming with the generally useful and comprehensive RTÉ data: they’re only reporting first count totals and candidate status (elected/eliminated) on the web, and then collating total party numbers by council and nationally. I don’t see why they couldn’t be including individual count totals (for the second and subsequent rounds) in their database, particularly since their reporters need to be listening to those numbers when they’re announced, in order to then report on who was elected or eliminated. It would allow those of us who want to drill down into the numbers to use the data for more sophisticated analysis, and build a pool of data that RTÉ could have available for future election coverage. The front end is fine, but I find myself wondering “why was that candidate eliminated?” and “how did those transfers scatter?” RTÉ, with their comprehensive coverage, are in a position to provide that information in a timely fashion.
  • I should note that ElectionsIreland are now providing count-by-count updates for the European results. I’m guessing reporting the locals in real time was a bit beyond their reach yesterday. Another indication of what the organizations with paid staff can do, which the volunter-run spaces can’t….
  • If RTÉ are the people who should be providing the comprehensive numbers, the web seems to be a better space for the analysis and speculation to thrive. It’s the junkies who want the ongoing coverage, and they are also often best placed to provide the speculation. Better that than constantly-revolving talking heads on TV (though the . A fair division of labour, it would seem to me….
  • Counts have always been spaces where there’s been some interaction between the various political camps, as acquaintances (or even friends) who fall on different sides of the party line will often overcome those differences to swap updates and discuss campaigning experiences. That’s also the case in the online space, where activists are discussing updates in a shared space.

Of course, there’s also the substantive matter of the elections themselves. This looks to be a poor election for the left across Europe. We’ve seen a drop in support for PES parties over the past while, and that continues in this election.

Ireland looks to be an exception. Even though Ireland drops from 15 to 12 MEPs, we’re going to go from 1 Labour/PES representative (de Rossa in Dublin) to at least two (Childers in Ireland East), and possibly a third (my old Labour Youth colleague, Alan Kelly, in Ireland South). That last result depends on whether Alan can stay ahead of Toireasa Ferris of Sinn Féin – he was 500 behind her after the first count but is already 300 ahead after the second (thanks ElectionsIreland!). Given that they’re both on around 66,000 votes, and the quota’s over 124,000, there’s still a long slog to go, but I’m optimistic.

Joe Higgins, Socialist Party candidate, looks likely to take a seat in Dublin, and unseat Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald. Four seats out of twelve for the Left/centre-Left is good for Ireland. Fianna Fáil have had a bad election, dropping from 300 local council seats to something around 200 (196 at time of writing, with 67 still to be declared). The seat gains have been split fairly evenly between Fine Gael and Labour, though Labour is still sitting in third place, at 125 as I write. Fianna Fáil will also likely end up with 3 MEPs, tied with Labour and behind Fine Gael.

Declan Ganley, US defense contractor, and founder of the Libertas rag-tag band of reactionary candidates, is polling better than one might hope in Ireland North-West, but still looks out of the running for a seat. Looks like that will stay with the same 1FF/1FG/1IND split, though with a personnel change in Fianna Fáil that will necessitate a by-election sometime soon, if there isn’t a general election in the interim.

Speculation in some quarters that the Greens might pull the plug on the government, after a disastrous showing – they’re sitting at 3 council seats, down from 18 after the 2004 election. I don’t see that happening. They’re so tied into the government’s fortunes that they would be annihilated in a general election. More sensible from their perspective was Ó Brolcháin’s call for FG and Labour to make a proposal to the Greens for them to pull out of government, and create an alternative coalition without having to go for an election, though I’m not sure I see that happening either. It’s worth remembering that we’re heading into the summer months, and once we reach the Autumn, any parliamentary developments will require fresh events to provide impetus for the Greens to pull out of government, or whatever other changes we see.

  1. 3 Responses to “Following the Irish election, at home and abroad”

  2. By Andrew Ó Baoill on Jun 7, 2009 | Reply

    A correction: Ireland had dropped from 15 to 13 seats before 2004, so the drop this time is only from 13 to 12 seats.

  3. By CiaránMac on Jun 7, 2009 | Reply

    As a long-time Green member I can’t wait for our party to get away from Fianna Fáil. They are the political equivalent of swine flu as I’m sure you know from the 1997 debacle. I prefer comparisons to 1992 where the PDs pulled out of coalition with FF over serious corruption in the beef industry and actually gained seats in the ensuing election, from a low of 3% in the opinion polls. I would like if FG and Labour could arrange an alternative government, and with the FG victory in the Dublin South bye-election the Dáil arithmetic makes it easier. Failing that, I would be happy with a general election which would certainly remove FF from power. There have been plenty of issues already which were serious enough to bring down the government if the party leadership wanted, and unfortunately I fully expect there will be more.

  4. By CiaránMac on Jun 7, 2009 | Reply

    By the way the count centre wasn’t the same without you!

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