Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Labour Voters – How Cool Are They About Coalition With the Right?

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John Meehan has put together a statistical analysis of Labour Party lower preferences, where no other Labour candidate is in the contest (these are known as terminal transfers), and candidates from both the left and right are still in the race.

The table is at the end of this article.


Healthy debate is developing on this blog and other Irish sites on the composition of the Labour Party’s electoral base.  The February 2011 General Election broke new ground in many ways, and we can learn a lot from detailed study of the numbers.

An interesting question is : how keen are Labour voters on coalition with the right?  How sympathetic are they to the arguments of left rivals that helping to elect Enda Kenny as taoiseach is a very bad idea?

We know that Labour members have accepted coalition with Fine Gael by a huge majority at the recent special conference.   Media reports said the opposition only amounted to five per cent.   One unexpected contributor to the Cedar Lounge site – the Dublin Mid-West Labour TD Joanna Tuffy – voted against the Gilmore/Kenny “Programme for Government” – and says the opposition was more like 10 per cent.

A large minority of Labour Voters – judging from an analysis of terminal transfers – are opposed to coalition with Fine Gael.

In 10 constituencies Labour voters could express a preference either for the shades of right (Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, or Independent Right) or  anti-coalition left (Sinn Féin, United Left Alliance, Independent Left).

Dún Laoghaire got most media attention because the Labour Party’s  Ivana Bacik transfers took Richard Boyd-Barrett of the United Left Alliance well ahead of the outgoing Fianna Fáil deputy leader and Minister Mary Hanafin.

Boyd-Barrett got 2461 transfers from Bacik (33.68 per cent), very closely behind Mary Mitchell-O’Connor of Fine Gael who received 2554 extra votes (34.96 per cent), while Hanafin only got 876 (11.99 per cent) – the remaining 1415 votes (19.37 per cent) were non-transferable.

Reviewing the data from the other constituencies, we see this is a typical Labour terminal transfer in the 2011 General Election.

The statewide breakdown of Labour Terminal Transfers is :

Right Wing Share              :  44.16 per cent (FG, FF, Independent Right)

Anti-Coalition Left Share :  34.70 per cent (ULA, SF, Independent Left)


plus Greens                          :   21.84 per cent

This has big implications for the United Left Alliance + it  suggests that a very significant minority of Labour voters are already opposed to coalition with Fine Gael – or are, at least, willing to listen to the anti-coalition left.

If the anti-coalition left is correct, the Kenny-Gilmore coalition will become unpopular because it will pursue policies identical to the late unlamented Fianna Fáil / Green Party coalition.

It makes sense to regularly appeal to Labour voters who are not keen on coalition with Fine Gael.

On the other hand, while an anti-coalition left may grow within the Labour Party membership, the overwhelming majority favour coalition with the right – that is very barren ground for any left activism.

Practical united action proposals, along with the building of genuine independent mass-action coalitions – which are not the glove puppets of far-left apparatuses – are called for.


Note on who makes up the “Left of Labour Category”.

The left outside the Labour Party has different shades – the United Left Alliance, Sinn Féin, and the Independent Lefts.

This found concrete expression in the Dáil when 27 TD’s voted against the nomination of Enda Kenny for taoiseach – nearly all of these 27 belonged to the various shades of left.

There should not be much argument about most of these deputies in the tables below, with the possible exception of Luke “Ming” Flanagan, the Roscommon – South Leitrim TD who regularly smokes cannabis.

I think he belongs in the generously defined “left” group on the basis of his speech opposing the nomination of Kenny for taoiseach where, like the far-left, he called for repudiation of the IMF / ECB private banks’ bailout.

He does not take the hard anti-coalition line proposed by the United Left Alliance – which I endorse with vigour! – but his wobbles on this issue are no worse than some of the statements made by Maureen O’Sullivan, Finian McGrath, or Thomas Pringle.

In any case, it about time the left campaigned for the decriminalising of cannabis, and followed the excellent example of Ming!

Terminal Transfer Analysis – Labour Party
Constituency Nº of Votes Fine Gael Fianna Fáil
ULA Sinn Féin Left Independent Green Party Non-Transferable
Right Independent

Cork East (John Mulvihill) 7,097 1724 658 2199 2,516
24.29% 9.27% 30.98% 35.45%
Cavan-Monaghan (Liam Hogan) 4,998 1954 676 1303 1,065
39.10% 13.53% 26.07% 21.31%
Dublin Central (Áine Clancy) 4,135 582 656 2055 842
14.07% 15.86% 49.70% 20.36%
Dublin North (Tom Kelleher) 3,387 683 359 1221 686 418
20.17% 10.60% 36.05% 20.25% 12.34%
Dún Laoghaire (Ivana Bacik) 7,306 2,554 876 2,461 1,415
34.96% 11.99% 33.68% 19.37%
Kildare North (John McGinley) 6449 1421 467 2923 1638
22.03% 7.24% 45.32% 25.40%
Longford-Westmeath (Mae Sexton) 4175 2148 762 226 519 540
51.45% 18.25% 5.41% 12.43% 12.93%
Roscommon-South Leitrim (John Kelly) 4894 1959 398 516 1701 320
40.03% 8.13% 10.54% 34.76% 6.54%
Sligo-North Leitrim (Susan O’Keeffe) 6646 3042 553 1477 1574
45.77% 8.32% 22.22% 23.68%
Tipperary South (Phil Prendergast) 4966 1813 277 729 1723 424
36.51% 5.58% 14.68% 34.70% 8.54%

Totals 54,053 17,301 5,609 955 5,406 6,671 6,680 10,754

32.01% 10.38% 1.77% 10.00% 12.34% 12.36% 19.90%

2 Responses

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  1. This is an interesting piece. It’s absolutely correct that the distinction we need to make isn’t between the right wing Labour leadership and the equally right wing Labour membership, but between the Labour Party and a section of its vote. I’d quibble with two parts however:

    1) I really don’t think that there’s any evidence to describe Flanagan as left wing in any meaningful sense. Liking a joint is not an indication of leftist sympathies in this post-hippy age.

    2) The part about “united action proposals” is very unclear. “United action proposals” are normally made to a party when you are trying to win over its rank and file, but as the article correctly says the Labour rank and file is particularly barren ground. Who exactly are you suggesting that “common action proposals” should be made to? The Labour government ministers? The couple of leftish Labour councillors? Either seems pointless.

    If you are simply talking about some people who voted Labour then “united action proposals” is an odd way to phrase it. I fully agree, by the way, that campaign bodies on such things as the water tax should be more than “glove puppets”, although realistically speaking the only organised forces within them will be from the socialist left.

    Mark P

    Mar 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm

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