Transfers matter under proportionate representation though perhaps more for psephologists and party tacticians than in terms of actual electoral difference.
Noel Whelan, for example, notes that: “only 12 or 13 of the 158 deputies in the new Dáil will win their seats because of transfers. If we stopped counting after the first counts and declared the results, all but a dozen or so of the seats would have been filled by the same people”.
The most dramatic difference transfers made was of Maureen O’Sullivan, a notably gentle and non-partisan independent in Dublin Central. She polled badly on first preferences, getting just 1,990 votes. The quota was 5,922. She was in sixth place. Everyone assumed she was out for the count but in the end she took the last of the three seats.
In the same constituency in 2007 Bertie Ahern, then ascendant Taoiseach, brought in his running-mate Cyprian Brady in 2007, though he had polled 939 first preferences. The only other candidate ever to be elected with fewer than 1000 first preferences was Brian O’Higgins (later President of Sinn Féin from 1931–1933) elected in Clare in 1923 on DeValera’s transfers.
The Right to Change campaign, which involved around 100 candidates, both party and non-party, helped Sinn Féin to secure transfers that pushed a number of their candidates over the line. As well as a strong transfer pattern (76% as opposed to 58% in 2011) between SF candidates running in the same constituency the party enjoyed a good return of more than 23% from other left candidates who endorsed the campaign.
In Dublin Bay North, which had one of the longest counts in the election, Denise Mitchell of Sinn Féin was assisted by significant transfers from John Lyons of People before Profit (PBP) as well as from her party colleague, Micheál MacDonncha who was eliminated at an earlier stage.
Similarly, SF candidate and trade unionist, Louise O’Reilly, won a seat following strong transfers from Barry Martin, also of PBP and a running mate of Clare Daly’s in the Fingal constituency.
Richard Boyd Barrett who was always likely to take a seat in Dun Laoghaire, was helped by the votes transferred from Sinn Féin candidate Shane O’Brien on his elimination.
Across the country, there were other examples of the Right to Change arrangement benefitting successful candidates. AAA-PBP transferred significantly more votes to Sinn Féin than any other party with independents the next block to gain from their transfers.
Sinn Féin performed exceptionally in its internal transfers with an unprecedented rate of 76% which augurs well for its future prospects where it stands two candidates. Sinn Féin has historically been quite transfer unfriendly, but in 2016 they have improved significantly on their own transfers as well as taking 28% of the transfers from AAA-PBP. With the exception of Donegal where it overrated its chances of taking three of the five seats, leaving Pádraig MacLochlainn as the party’s most prominent casualty, it came close in several other constituencies to bringing in a running mate.
Fine Gael also displayed strong transfer discipline. The transfer rate between Fine Gael candidates was much better than that between Fianna Fáil candidates.
In 2016 this discipline brought Fine Gael an even bigger seat bonus than it got in 2011.
It benefited from 54% of its own transfers as well as 53% of those of Labour candidates.
What is also evident and perhaps a harbinger of the future is the number of transfers between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Where a candidate had no running mate or he or she had been eliminated or elected, Fine Gael was more likely to transfer to its big right-wing rivals than any other party and vice versa. 18% of FF transfers went to FG candidates and 16% of FG transfers nished up with FF.
As the two beasts prepare the ground for an historic coalition it would seem that their supporters do not share the view that their differences would make the ending of civil war politics impossible.