Ireland 2011: Big shift

While the results of some constituencies are not yet complete, the general shape of the Irish result is known.

Elections compares seats so far to seats at the last election. Out of 153 seats called thus far, it shows the top four parties as follows:

    Fianna Fail 18 (-60)
    Fine Gael 70 (+19)
    Labour 36 (+16)
    Sinn Fein 13 (+9)

Independents and others will have 14 seats, up by 8.

As expected, quite a debacle for Fianna Fail. Preliminary results show Fine Gael with 36.1% of the first-preference vote (up 8.8 on 2007), Labour on 19.4% (+9.3). Fianna Fail has fallen to 17.4% (from 41.5%!).

Independents combined for 12.6% (almost double last time). The Greens, who were coalition partners to Fianna Fail in the outgoing government, saw their vote fall from 4.6% to 1.8%, will not win a seat.

At the Political Reform blog, Eoin O’Malley poses the question of whether Labour should join a coalition (as expected) or support a minority Fine Gael cabinet.

A sampling of the argument:

By entering government Labour will stunt its own growth and the potential development of a left-right divide in Irish politics. If it were to stay in opposition it would displace Fianna Fáil as the main opposition party. …

…staying in opposition would protect Labour’s left flank. In going into government Labour will be opposed vigorously by a young, energetic and largely articulate Sinn Féin and ULA.

The Labour leadership will no doubt claim that it does not want to go into government but that the national interest demands it. … But it’s not even that clear that it is in the national interest to enter government.

The Fine Gael and Labour leaders have begun coalition talks.

13 thoughts on “Ireland 2011: Big shift

  1. Are the United Left Alliance members counted as independents? And do we expect that they will actually operate as a party block, or was the alliance just an electoral tactic?

  2. I think from both Fine Gael’s perspective and Labour’s perspective, it would be better for Labour to become the main opposition party. The next Irish government would likely be unpopular because of the austerity measures, and with a Fine Gael-Labour coalition, Fianna Fail would bounce back as the only real alternative. Labour going into opposition would offer up the prospect of a real realignment in Irish politics, with Labour on the left and Fine Gael on the right, and Fianna Fail squeezed out.

    The problem is the parliamentary arithmetic, Fine Gael does not have a majority by itself and the independents. Of the only two other coalition partners, Fianna Fail is pretty discredited at the moment, and a coalition with Sinn Fein would be risky for both parties given their histories. Still, if I was the Fine Gael leader I would pursue the latter.

    The models of the UK (formal coalition between the main former opposition party and a smaller opposition party), Canada (minority government) and Australia (government with the support of independents and a minor party) won’t work here because of the parliamentary arithmetic and the parties’ histories and positions on the political landscape.

  3. The ULA in and of itself cant form a parliamentary group-the rules in the Dail are quite restrictive and complex, but there is the possibility of a technical group, as it is known, which would give its members additional speaking time.

    I read Eoin O Malley’s piece, which was interesting but not realistic. I dont think Labour can simply renounce the opportunity to go into government, Further on he posits a sort of “grand coalition” scenario in which FG and Labour would enter govt together for a defined time period, which seems to me to be a more realistic outcome-especially considering Labour spent the last week of the campaign asking for support on tbe basis that they would moderate the more aggressive neo-liberal tendencies of FG.

    FF have been decimated, but they ran on the basis that the bailout deal was the bestthey could get and that austerity was regrettable but necessary, which is not too far from the FG perspective. FG could cobble together a minority govt and more or less dare FF, which would be a distant third party in that
    case, to vote against their own stated policy, especially as FF are broke and probably not too anxious to face the voters again any time soon. But the image of the govt rushing around buying off recalcitrant non party Deputies would look like more of the same, and be expensive fiscally and politically. FG/Labour it is then, barring accidents…

  4. Good thing Ireland uses first-past-the-post, isn’t it? So the voters can decisively boot out a ruling party when it fails? Otherwise they’d be like the UK, where AV has produced a weak, divided coalition government without a viable opposition party waiting to replace it. Oh. Wait…

    (Yes, I know, snark is unbecoming, but please cut me some slack – I’ve had to endure two weeks of wading through No2AV propaganda and finding out that Australia can’t count AV ballots without using voting machines; that AV has produced a rigid two-party duopoly here; that AV has produced hung parliaments and unstable governments here; that DCameron’s First in politics at the feet of Professor Bogdanor has not equipped the UK’s PM to understand the same elimination process that put him, and not David Davis, at the leadership of the Tory Party; and… you get the drift.)

    Back to Ireland. It seems to me that lumping Irish STV in with the Tasmanian, ACT and Maltese variants (especially the first two) can be misleading; that in some ways, STV in the Republic resembles SNTV (late of Japan and Taiwan) more than it does its “Hare-Clark” sibling. Irish parties seem to devote a lot of their energy to (a) capping nominations (I understand the rule of thumb is “one more candidate than the party’s number of expected whole quotas”) and (b) vote-management, trying to divide the party’s votes roughly equally among its candidates to approximate a “highest-average” (specifically, D’Hondt) rather than a “largest-remainder” (with Droop quota) distribution of support among the team.

    Neither is an imperative with Hare-Clark STV as practised in Tasmania or the ACT.

    First, voters are told to number at least as many candidates as there are seats (by Australian standards this counts as extremely lenient “optional preferences”) so leakage is less common. I understand that repeated or skipped numbers are overlooked as long as at least 5 or 7 (as may be) candidates have a number and there is only one “1”.

    Secondly, candidates are grouped in party columns (something like a Spanish Senate ballot-paper) so voters don’t overlook one of their party’s candidates, as can happen if they’re all in one long alphabetical list.

    Thirdly, vacancies are filled by countback, not by-election. By-elections are unknown de jure in the ACT and de facto in Tasmania. So parties want spare candidates on the ticket. While there is some intra-party rivalry, it’s mitigated by the fact that the runner-up may get to serve out the remainder of a term later.

    And finally, positions within each ticket are rotated equally among the candidates. Ironically, some parties (especially Labor) complain about this because it prevents them from handing a life peerage at the top of the ticket to some shining statesperson like Mal Colston, Noel Crichton-Browne, Flo-Bjelke-Petersen or Belinda Neale. I was rather startled to once be lectured by an ALP Secretary that “ordered voting tickets help the [P]arty maximise the number of seats it wins”. Au contraire. What Irish parties have to expend their own resources and efforts to achieve – their party votes divided equally among their candidates – ACT and Tasmanian parties are given gratis by the government printer.

  5. Eg, as the Wikipediste notes (, Fine Gael ran 104 candidates, Fianna Fáil 75, and Labour Party 68 candidates for the 165 contestable Dail seats. In other words, the big three parties “contested” only 41 to 63 per cent of the seats available.

    By contrast, in Tasmania in 2010 (, Liberal and Labor both stood at least 5 candidates in each 5-seat district – in fact, Labor stood 6 in Lyons and the Liberals 7 in Braddon. (Note that there are very few independent candidates and – Greens aside – minor party candidates, despite a relatively low quota both as a percentage and as an absolute number of votes). This is not unusual – my recollection of seeing various Tasmanian ballot-papers over the years leads me to estimate that the big two would stand around 25 to 28 candidates for the 25 seats (or 35 to 38 back in the days of 7-seaters). The ACT is similar.

  6. Personally, I thought that despite dire poll predictions, Fianna Fáil would manage to scrape second place in the hour of truth, like Iceland’s Independence Party back in 2009. However, not only did that fail to happen, but I was utterly surprised to see how poorly the party did in terms of Dáil seats: despite finishing just two percentage points behind Labour, FF won just over half as many seats as the former (20 to Labour’s 36). This outcome is even more surprising if one considers that back in 2007 Labour won twenty seats with a considerably lower first preference share of the vote (10.1% to FF’s 17.4% last Friday).

    As it turned out, Fianna Fáil’s poor seat performance was largely the result of its disastrous performance in Dublin – that is, the eleven Dublin constituencies plus Dun Laoghaire – where FF only won a single seat out of 47 (that is, 2.1% of the total) despite having polled 12.5% of the first preference votes; in the rest of Ireland, FF and Labour both won 19 of 119 seats (16%) with 19.1% and 16.2% of the vote, respectively.

    Now, I’ve seen instances of STV elsewhere deliver less-than-proportional results for smaller parties: in particular, the Scottish Conservatives’ poor seat showing in Glasgow’s 2007 local election comes to mind (see my blog posting on that race here), and while the same mechanical factors appear to have been at play in FF’s case in Dublin, I still find it amazing that a party on double-digit percentage figures could fare so badly seat-wise under STV.

  7. What is the advantages of STV, and disadvantages?

    Is it possible that there could be a reform of the Irish STV electoral system such as having larger multi-member districts (only 3,4, and 5 are used) and/or nation wide tier?

    Is it possible in an STV electoral system to have a nation wide tier of adjustment seats to insure proportionality all through out the country? I would think at the very least a first preference would be a vote for a party at the national level. Would this create problems such as parties not needing transfers to get elected?

    I found an article of a draft called A New MMP Method. The paper below talks about using STV in conjunction with a best looser adjust tier. It talks about changing the MMP system of the Berlin House of Representatives toward a STV system.

    Click to access schulze4.pdf

  8. Suaprazzodi,

    Just before the election, the Irish Times published an article on proportional representation: what it is and how it works, which neatly summarizes the pros and cons of PR-STV. Specifically, the article notes that the system “allows voters the maximum choice of candidates, even within parties, while assuring both proportionality and local representation.” However, it also notes that “although distributing seats to parties in a way that reflects pretty closely their actual vote share, STV does so less accurately than a truly proportional list system, such as Israel’s national list, or a constituency/regionally based partial top-up list system, such as Germany’s.”

    Because Dáil constituencies have on average four seats, Irish parties need around 20% of the vote to win a proportionate share of Dáil seats. However, smaller parties sometimes attain a near-proportionate outcome if their votes are sufficiently concentrated in a few key constituencies, and just as important if they do well on transfers. For example, in 1997 the Democratic Left won four Dáil seats (2.4% of the total) with 2.5% of the first preference votes.

    Incidentally, the Dáil used to have larger constituencies, but when I was in Pittsburgh I was told by a friend and neighbor who was an Irish historian that in due course it was determined that 3-5 seats was the optimal range. To be certain, larger constituencies would pave the way for more proportionate outcomes, but also for longer counts – an important consideration given that Ireland doesn’t use voting machines (an experiment with such systems a few years ago turned out to be one very expensive flop).

    Concerning electoral reform, the Times also ran a piece about changing the electoral system, available here.

    As for STV with a nationwide top-up, Malta has implemented that in a limited form – limited to insure the popular vote winner actually wins the most seats – but the Maltese changes are not exactly favorites among STV experts and scholars, to put it mildly.

  9. Thanks to all for the great discussion on STV and Ireland. Keep it up! I’m reading, and learning and thinking, even if not responding (thus far).

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  11. The Canadian Liberals use AV with a 5% threshold to elect their leader at convention. I have some idea that there was one variant of STV-PR used in the US (NY school boards, perhaps?) under which any candidate with under 100 first-preference votes was summarily eliminated.

    I am not madly keen on summary elimination of any viable candidate, but 5% is a low threshold and if these sorts of devices are necessary to sell AV to voters or legislators who are scared of a “Macmillan 1969” result due to preferences (candidate with 16% of first preferences defeated one with 47%), I could live with ’em.

  12. Fianna Fail has just decided that it won’t endorse a candidate” for the Irish presidential election due in October.

    A rather mystifying decision… True, FF did drop recently from largest party to third place but surely they would be aware (from reading the Daily Mail and listening to No2AV) that the Alternative Vote electoral system actually gives more power to the smaller parties than to the larger ones?

    To those who correctly understand how AV works, this is nearly as counter-intuitive as the NSW Green Party recommending its voters exhaust their preferences instead of getting their ballot counted up to SIX TIMES!!!!!!!! as can apparently happen under AV.

    Or am I missing some reason why using AV for the Irish presidency won’t lead to “endless coalition governments”? Someone point me to some “eminent Oxford historians”, quick…

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