University of Dublin – By-election

Warning: Any assessment of the likely votes that candidates may garner is completely unrelated to their qualities as human beings or how nice or hard working they are. Lots of people contest elections who are wonderful human beings and very likable, it doesn’t change the laws of political gravity that they’re subject to.

Misconceptions and mistakes

A couple of broad ground rules about running for the Seanad that take an axe to delusions that many have about the Seanad elections. It’s all about running a great campaign. If you don’t have a public profile before the election happens it is highly unlikely you’re going to manage to create one in the short few weeks that the campaign allows. The format of the campaign, the highly distributed voters who don’t commonly don’t live at their registered addresses (filled in when they still lived with mammy, or brought her home the washing at weekends even if they had moved away), the lack of mainstream media coverage of the full line up (other than the occasional name checking if the media profiles someone who has a profile already, “also contesting are…”) and the shockingly low turnout all conspire to render all the work conducted during the 6/8 weeks of a campaign almost utterly pointless.

This election is about young people, it’s not. Social media is replete with people who think that what is motivating the young people, or da yoof* was it was once termed, is going to decide where the votes go. The TCD register consists of almost 80% of people who graduated in 2009 or earlier. And those folks aren’t in their 20s. And over 50% graduated in the 20th century! *da yoof is a very out of touch term but it was current for most of those who are actually going to be voting.

The voters give this election a lot of thought, cos they’re graduates. Most voters in this election (like many other elections in truth but it’s rarely spoken about when reflecting on “the most sophisticated electorate in the world” © Republic of Ireland 2022) do not sit down with a glass of their favourite refreshing tipple and spend a few hours considering the relative merits of each candidate before finally voting in an order truly reflective of their considered assessment of all candidates. Rather they do an approximation of the following

Look at the ballot and see what if any names they might recognise, curse at those they have heard of and dislike, meh at those they recognise and are indifferent towards and finally do the half spoken “s’ppose” for those they’ll consider.

They then might, only might, flick through the various leaflets that might have arrived prior to them completing their ballot (many leaflets will arrive long after ballots have been returned. Not that An Post will tell you that).

They may start to fill in the various adjacent pieces of voting documentation (witness stuff) or more likely they’ll make a half mental/ partial written note of when is the last day that they have to send it all off and then put it aside until that day comes.

They then do a few moments of mental reflection before picking who they believe is their No.1 along with their not in a million years candidate(s) or No.15s to 17s on this occasion. They then look at the list and pick 4/5 that they are ok with getting elected and then do a quick sort, perhaps by putting 6 against the fifth of the not quite No. 1s and 2 against their actual second favourite and then 3/4/5 could be in any order.

After that it’s down to how conscientious they are or how much they absolutely can’t stand those at 15-17 as to whether they fill in the rest of the ballot. I tend to fill in my own election ballots all the way down but that’s cos there’s usually someone/some party I can’t stand. I’m generous that way. And into the inner envelope the ballot goes, and then that’s sealed and put into the outer enveloper along with your house insurance (yes really, saw this at the NUI Seanad count, 2007). And that’s the campaigning and voting done.

So who’s going to win?

There appear to be quite a few candidates who believe because the bye-election is for the seat previously held by Ivana Bacik that the person who is best placed to win the election is someone who is what the Americans would call a cookie cutter match for Sen. Bacik. As if somehow the only people voting were those who had previously voted for Sen. Bacik. That is clearly quite wrong: indeed with so many running in the Ivana Bacik lane, they have actually made it harder for someone very similar to Sen. Bacik to get elected this time around. And come the next general election I suspect the Bacik lane will have been freshly painted and sign posted in Ruane colours.

What matters far more is the actual candidate having an existing voter base from amongst the TCD electorate either from having run before or having a significant national profile from another walk of life. For that reason, two of the most likely winners have run for this panel before.

Who are the candidates and what are their chances?

  • Abbas Ali O’Shea, a Director AFA Consultancy and Representative of the Minority Communities in Ireland.
  • Eoin Barry, a Labour representative for Laois, who is also a social worker and family therapist.
  • Ray Bassett, a formerIrish Ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and Bahamas.
  • Hazel Chu, former Lord Mayor of Dublin
  • Tom Clonan, a whistleblower on sexual violence within the Defence Forces, a disability advocate, and columnist.
  • Maureen Gaffney, a psychologist, consultant, and public speaker.
  • Hugo MacNeill, a former Irish Rugby international player and chairman of the British-Irish Association.
  • Aubrey McCarthy, Kildare businessman and chairman of Tiglin, an organisation which operates mental health and addiction rehabilitation centres.
  • Michael McDermott, PhD candidate at Trinity.
  • Patricia McKenna, former MEP, political activist and barrister.
  • Ryan Alberto Ó Giobiúin, a PhD researcher in quantitative Sociology.
  • Ade Oluborode, a barrister and committee member of the Climate Bar Association.
  • Sadhbh O’Neill, an assistant professor in the DCU School of Law and Government.
  • Ursula Quill, PHD student in the Trinity School of Law
  • Paula Roseingrave, a chartered counselling psychologist and former Green Party candidate.
  • Gisèle Scanlon, Trinity Graduate Students’ Union President.
  • Catherine Stocker, a Social Democrat councillor in North Dublin.

Those most likely to get over 500 votes

  • Ray Bassett, – someone has to run as the Howard Beale candidate and he seems the most likely to garner that vote.
  • Hazel Chu, – has gained a huge media profile in just a short few years, some of what she’s done herself, some of what others have done either towards her or that she doesn’t approve of.
  • Tom Clonan, – has run a couple of times before and polled respectably. With the incumbents out of the picture is well placed to more easily pick up some of their voters.
  • Maureen Gaffney, – a long career and consequential a public profile with those who will make up the greater portion of the electorate. Her area of competence and social issues profile aligns well with the incumbents who aren’t present in the area so can appeal to their voters.
  • Hugo MacNeill, – has run once before and polled respectably, indeed better than many might have expected given his association with a party in government. With the incumbents out of the picture could pick up some of their voters but not as well placed as Clonan.
  • Patricia McKenna, – has decades of history in the Green movement, even if she left the Green party itself behind a good while ago.
  • Sadhbh O’Neill, – also has decades of history in the Green movement but has made more of a life effort in working in the making and doing side of things. Will have something of a profile for those who have been most actively but likely to be the poorest performer of this grouping
  • Catherine Stocker, – has the most pre-existing name recognition of any Labour, Social Democracy type candidate in the race. Has the clearest party alignment in the contest, which is somewhat surprising but will benefit her compared to how she might have done otherwise.

Those most likely to get in or around 1000 votes

Hazel Chu, – I suspect will find it hardest to get to the magic four figures of this shortlist.

Tom Clonan, – is coming into this election on the back of two outcomes of close to 10% and over 1,000 votes. Will well exceed both of those this time around.

Maureen Gaffney, will likely be the best performer of the first time candidates and in or around 2,000 votes.

Hugo MacNeill, – is likely to build on his previous outing of 13% and 2,000 votes though not enough to see him past Clonan on the first count (barring some blow up in Clonan’s campaign).

Patricia McKenna, – a well enough known name to get No.1s, sure she might only apply to a very small minority of voters say just 3% of the TCD electorate but that’s close to 2,000 votes given the low turnout. Personally, I think she’ll be closer to 1,500.

Those most likely to win

Tom Clonan, is most likely to top the poll but I suspect will come up short on transfers as they will trend more to Gaffney from those being eliminated.

Maureen Gaffney, quite likely to be 3rd on the first count though might be as low as 5th. Will prove very transfer friendly compared to Clonan and MacNeill.

Hugo MacNeill, reckon he is second on the first count though could surprise and top the poll, though my suspicion is he won’t. He won’t be a transfer friendly for those who will have voted for those who are going to be eliminated first. He might come back into things as those with more votes get eliminated but it will likely prove a bridge too far this time around though he may end up as the decisive elimination and might enable Clonan to overhaul Gaffney – though my inclination is that it won’t change the order as it will be too even a split.

So it’s going to come down to Clonan and Gaffney with my tuppence leaning towards Gaffney this time around.

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