This time 5 years ago the electoral spectrum across the country was alive with talk of the likely runners and riders at Fine Gael conventions as newly crowned and clearly impatient local election winners muscled their way into the running for the general election along with previous general election contestants who had lost seats and various other notables along with the un-notable too.
There was a definite logic to this sense of urgency as a party with only 31 TDs and a scattering of Senators and a massive (some said impossible) hill to climb to get back within reach of forming a government FG simply had to get as many people into the squad pool as quickly as possible.
Many conventions were announced in the spring of 2005 as being scheduled for the autumn of that year just in case Bertie Ahern decided to go after 4 years and to ensure that we gave candidates a good run up to polling in the summer of 2006. Prospective candidates were appointed as local area reps and they were given a run out over a course of ground (as I believe the horsey people term it) to see their form. I think Ms Bacall and Mr. Bogart said it best, so let’s take a few minutes and listen to them talk about it.
Back with us? So the question is why is it so quiet this time around? Well, we now have 50 plus TDs who are personally not pressed with the same urgency to have fresh faced, and party endorsed running mates sharing their space on the field. But I hear you say aren’t the national executive in charge of deciding when conventions are to be held? True, however their view appears to be (this is my judgement alone) is that we should hold our fire until the election is called because depending on the circumstances in which the election happens it might have a material effect on the best panel of people to be selected. Were say a long-standing FF TD, who was in a constituency where FF were almost certain to lose at least one seat, to decide to retire rather than be rejected by the voters we might be better off selecting a candidate from their area as it will have freed up a lot of votes. That said we could do that anyway as the national exec retains the right to add or even drop candidates right up to the date of filing papers.
To this mix, there is the issue of quotas and increased representation for women on the ballot, (the issue of electing more women TDs is one for the voters) and I suspect the national executive intends upping considerably the number of women candidates even if necessary by going outside the party, at the last minute, to do so. They will be most tempted to do so over the heads of the party members currently thinking of running in constituencies especially where the chance of an additional FG seat is limited. It would increase the numbers but not at the risk of an unpopular interference in the convention process costing the party a seat.
So in Dublin North East and Central where only 1 seat is realistically in prospect (they’re 3 seats constituencies and even a halving of the FF vote would still seem them electing one) but where the party will feel compelled to run two, I can foresee the imposition of women candidates. While in Dublin north, where on a good day FG could be challenging with the Socialist Party for that 2nd FF seat, the candidate selected will be primarily with a view to winning the seat and not to satisfy the optics of an increased overall percentage of women candidates. A pity in my view, especially if it dissuaded existing party members women and men both from continuing their involvement.
Of course this fear of the other runner also forms a minor part of the backdrop to Seanad abolition sideshow. TDs as reps like the idea of having the back up and safety in numbers provided by additional party members in the Oireachtas, as individuals they hate the notion that there is some Senator located in their area waiting in the wings just ready for the fray. I don’t blame them, I’d hate it too but I’d not look to abolish the chamber because of it. That’s a discussion for another day.