Ireland General Election 2020: Fine Gael

The 2020 general election in Ireland was always going to be a difficult one for Fine Gael, on the basis that they were seeking a third term in Government. Although they had been in power on several occasions before 2011, they always finished second in terms of votes behind Fianna Fáil. The 2011 election marked Fine Gael’s best ever result, and Enda Kenny become Taoiseach in a coalition with the Labour Party. Despite a number of losses in 2016, Fine Gael remained in power as the largest party and through a confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil. Leo Varadkar became Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach in 2017. However, in this election Fine Gael has finished third overall on both votes and seats, meaning they will most likely end up in opposition.

Fine Gael received 455,584 first preference votes, 20.9% of the total vote and finishing third on overall votes behind Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. This is their lowest number of votes since 2002 and their lowest percentage vote since 1948. It is also the first time they have finished third on votes in an election, in 2011 and 2016 Fine Gael came first on votes, and second in every election up to 2007.

Thirty-five Fine Gael TDs were elected, two less then Sinn Féin and three less then Fianna Fáil (although one of those Fianna Fáil TDs was automatically returned as the Ceann Comhairle therefore they only won two more seats). This is their lowest number of TDs since 2002.

Thirty-three constituencies have a Fine Gael TD in the new Dáil. Two of these elected two Fine Gael TDs, Dublin Rathdown and Mayo. Mayo has always been a strong area for the party (in 2011 Fine Gael achieved a remarkable result when they won four of the five seats in Mayo), and Dublin Rathdown was probably the highlight of the election for Fine Gael as they gained a second seat there. However, there are six constituencies with no Fine Gael TD, Cork South-West, Dublin North-West, Dublin South-Central, Roscommon-Galway, Tipperary and Waterford. In 2011, Dublin North-West was the only constituency without a Fine Gael TD, they gained a seat there in 2016 but did not win a seat in Roscommon-Galway and Tipperary.

Fine Gael gained one seat, which was in Dublin Rathdown. Culture Minister Josepha Madigan was re-elected, while Senator Neale Richmond won a second seat for the party, with independent Transport Minister Shane Ross losing his seat. However, fifteen seats were lost. In Dublin they lost two seats in Dún Laoghaire, they had three seats there after the 2016 election but one was the Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett who was not contesting this election, Maria Bailey was also not running again having been deselected by the party. The only outgoing Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor lost her seat while Jennifer Carroll MacNeill was elected as the Fine Gael TD. Also in Dublin, Catherine Byrne lost her seat in Dublin South-Central to the Green Party, and Noel Rock lost his seat in Dublin North-West to Fianna Fáil. In Dublin Bay South Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy was re-elected but Kate O’Connell lost her seat to Sinn Féin. There were two other constituencies in which Fine Gael lost their only seat, Waterford to the Green Party and Cork South-West to the Social Democrats, in both constituencies the outgoing Fine Gael TD was not running again. There were a number of constituencies where a second Fine Gael seat was lost, including Louth where Fergus O’Dowd was re-elected but Peter Fitzpatrick (elected for Fine Gael in 2011 and 2016) held his seat as an independent, having left Fine Gael over his opposition to abortion. In Meath East Helen McEntee was elected but her fellow Minister Regina Doherty lose out to Sinn Féin. In Wicklow Health Minister Simon Harris was elected but Andrew Doyle lost out to the Green Party, and in Wexford Paul Kehoe was elected but Michael D’Arcy lost out to the independent candidate Verona Murphy, who ran for Fine Gael in the November 2018 by-election. In Laois-Offaly Charlie Flanagan was elected but Marcella Corcoran Kennedy lost to independent former Sinn Féin TD Carol Nolan, and in Carlow-Kilkenny John Paul Phelan was elected by Pat Deering lost out to the Green Party. In Galway West Hildegarde Naugton was elected and Seán Kyne lost to Sinn Féin, in Clare Joe Carey was elected while Pat Breen lost to Sinn Féin, and in Limerick County Patrick O’Donovan was elected and Tom Neville lost to the independent candidate Richard O’Donoghue.

Looking at percentage votes, the constituency with the highest Fine Gael vote was 39.5% in Mayo. Other constituencies with a Fine Gael percentage vote over 30% were Dún Laoghaire (33.4%), Cork North-West (33.2%), Limerick County (32.6%) and Dublin Rathdown (31.2%). Fine Gael returned one TD in each of these constituencies apart from Dublin Rathdown where they gained a second seat. There was no clear geographical pattern to Fine Gael’s support unlike Fianna Fáil, for example in Connaught and Ulster they polled very well in Mayo, Galway East (29.0%) and Cavan-Monaghan (26.6%), but comparatively disappointing in Donegal and Roscommon-Galway. In Munster, excellent results in Limerick City and County and also Cork North-West were contrasted with disappointing results in Tipperary and Waterford. And in Leinster there was a very strong Fine Gael result in Meath and Wicklow, but their vote was down in Kildare and Wexford. Finally in Dublin, Fine Gael remain very strong in South Dublin, particularly Dublin Bay South, Rathdown and Dún Laoghaire. They did well in north and central Dublin too, but their two lowest results in North-West and South-Central cost them two seats in the capital.

This was a difficult election for Fine Gael, and it probably wasn’t surprising that after nearly a decade in office that finishing as the largest party would be extremely challenging. The surge in support for Sinn Féin has further complicated matters, and while Sinn Féin took some seats from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, it was their transfers to smaller left-wing parties like the Green Party and Social Democrats that really cost Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Having said that, there were some positive results for Fine Gael, particularly the strong result in Dublin Rathdown and Neale Richmond gaining a second seat there. There were also very good results for other candidates such as Colm Burke in Cork North-Central and Frank Feighan in Sligo-Leitrim, many had predicted that Fine Gael would lose their seat in both constituencies but both Burke and Feighan defended those seats. There are a number of important questions for Fine Gael to decide in the next few weeks. It looks certain that Fine Gael will go to opposition now, but would they support a minority Fianna Fáil Government rather then let Sinn Féin into power? Will Leo Varadkar remain leader, and if not who could become the new Fine Gael leader? It will certainly be worth watching Irish politics closely over the next few weeks to find out.

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