Cliff hanger as FG and SF do battle for extra seats

As the general election campaign runs into its final hours the candidates and their support teams in Cavan Monaghan are working feverishly to achieve a maximum turnout for their respective standard bearers on Friday. Opinion polls put the final outcome in this constituency at two Fine Gael, two Sinn Féin and one Fianna Fáil, but all contenders believe that there is still such a sufficient level of 'don't knows' out there who may yet be persuaded to vote that the Holy Grail of electoral success is still up for grabs in terms of the last two seats. This general election campaign is noticeable for the extent of opinion sampling, both nationally and at individual constituency level. It is an intriguing element in an election campaign that has been dominated by the grave financial and economic crisis that we find ourselves in. Nationally, Fine Gael are seen as a certainty to lead the next government either as a single party administration or as the principal party in a coalition, most likely with Labour. National opinion polls place Fine Gael close to 40% of the vote - in the category where they might be able to form a single party government. Here in Cavan Monaghan, an opinion poll undertaken for The Anglo-Celt by students from Cavan Institute gives the party 38.2% of the vote – a figure that is in line with the projected national vote of the party. However, Fine Gael's quest for three seats in Cavan Monaghan may not be achievable on this occasion. According to our opinion poll, the party will comfortably win two seats but are short for a third. It predicts the likely outcome in the constituency as two Fine Gael, two Sinn Féin and one Fianna Fáil. This election is a nightmare for Fianna Fáil, who are going before the people to account for their stewardship after 14 years in power. Being in power for such a long, unbroken period was always going to make it difficult for the party but the extent of the economic bust, the loss of jobs, increased taxes and mortgages difficulties have meant that the Soldiers of Destiny are campaigning in the teeth of a virtual hurricane of discontent. Here in Cavan Monaghan, the party's two candidates (Brendan Smith and Margaret Conlon) are being hit quite dramatically by this national swing against the party. On percentage first preferences indicated in the poll undertaken for the Celt, Margaret Conlon will find it difficult to retain her seat while Minister for Agriculture, Brendan Smith, will be fighting for either of the last two seats. However, Fianna Fáil are banking on a late surge of traditional party support back to their ranks as the hour dawns for making definitive choices in the polling booths. It is important to point out that while our poll is extensive in that over 520 people from all voting age groups were sampled at eight locations across Cavan Monaghan, it is not an opinion poll in the absolute scientific sense. Nevertheless, the number of people polled, more than 500 in the two counties, compared to 1,000 people sampled country wide in the highly flagged national opinion polls, does indicate the comprehensive nature of it. With all opinion polls it is important to point out that there is a three per cent margin of error. According to the opinion poll conducted for this paper, the election is expected to be a successful one for Sinn Féin. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin is predicted to top the poll with a small surplus while Kathryn Reilly, with 11.37% of the first preference vote, ranks third at the first count and would appear a strong contender for a second seat for Sinn Féin. Independent, Caroline Forde, is to make a creditable showing, picking up 5.13% of first preferences. She could be higher as it is clear that the issue of Quinn Insurance is a running sore in Cavan Monaghan. Ms Forde is not likely to take a seat, but she will be a kingmaker in terms of who benefits from her transfers. Labour's Liam Hogan, running for the Dáil for the first time in Cavan Monaghan, is also performing well, especially in the area of Cavan town. He will secure the highest vote for Labour since Ann Gallagher stood here some 20 years ago. At 4.2%, according to our poll, he is unlikely to win a seat on this occasion. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin on 17.6% is expected to exceed the quota. It will mean that the outgoing Sinn Féin deputy will have a surplus at present unquantifiable, but it could be higher than 1,000 votes and according to this sample, it will transfer to Kathryn Reilly at the rate of 80%. If Caroline Forde is eliminated from the contest, her votes are anticipated to transfer to Ms Reilly at the rate of 30%. This election should see Senator Joe O'Reilly safely elected to the Dáil. Senator O'Reilly was a defeated candidate in the 2007 election, having then polled over 9,500 votes. On this occasion, according to our poll, he is projected to take almost 14% of the vote and will benefit from party transfers and the votes of other candidates. It is good news for the Fine Gael organisation in County Cavan, which has been without a representative in the Dáil since then sitting Deputy Andrew Boylan surprisingly lost his seat back in 2002. According to our opinion poll, the two Monaghan based Fine Gael candidates, Sean Conlan and Heather Humphreys are engaged in a tight contest with Mr Conlan slightly ahead when the poll was conducted last Friday. The youthful Cllr Conlan, son of former Fine Gael TD, John Francis Conlan, scored heavily with all age groups throughout County Monaghan and in Cavan as well. Along with Senator O'Reilly, Cllr Humphreys was chosen by delegates at the Fine Gael constituency selection convention and is a strong vote getter in the Clones electoral area, having been returned to Monaghan County Council in successive elections. Fine Gael party strategists working on Councillor Humphreys' campaign contend that the shake-out of votes between Sean Conlan and their candidate is evenly divided in County Monaghan and Ms Humphreys also has a strong base of support in County Cavan because of her job as a credit union manager. They say that the party is still in the running for the third seat. However, with four candidates in the field, vote management is crucial for Fine Gael – this is particularly true if their overall vote in Cavan Monaghan was to shoot beyond the 40% mark and a third seat was a realisable possibility. With his vote predicted to be substantially down on 2007, Minister Brendan Smith knows that he has a fight on his hands on this occasion. He secured 24% of the vote in the 2007 general election and had a substantial surplus to dispose of on his election on the first count. A Fianna Fáil deputy since 1992, he has been active in promoting the profile of the constituency over those years and has been particularly successful as a government minister in gaining funding for a diverse range of socio-economic projects in County Cavan, most recently the Belturbet bypass. The pronounced national swing against Fianna Fáil, coupled with factors such as the uncertain future of Quinn Insurance, are believed to have affected his vote on this occasion, bringing it down to 10.94% in terms of first preference vote share. Minister Smith, an experienced politician and electoral campaigner, is, nevertheless, likely to secure a sufficient first preference vote and this factor coupled with the required level of transfers from eliminated candidates will secure his re-election. The destination of the transfers of independent candidates Treanor, McGuirk and Duffy and those of Green Party candidate, Darcy Lonergan, will also impact on the electoral outcome. Nationally the number of 'don't knows' is put as high as 16% and if that figure is replicated in Cavan Monaghan they can radically change the outcome.