Forecasting the Seanad elections

Having had a good go at forecasting the Dáil elections, it’s only natural to take on the challenge of the upper house. However, before we begin I best outline what cannot be “forecast” for the Seanad elections. Namely, names.

The candidates elected to the Seanad reflect the name recognition or prominence of an individual within:

  1. Their political party (in the case of panel elections – 43 seats)
  2. Their alma mater (in the case of University panel elections – 6 seats)
  3. Their political party AND with the Taoiseach (in the case of the Taoiseach’s nominees – 11 seats)

We simply do not have sufficient data on any of the above. Incumbency advantage will play strongly in the first two, but the Taoiseach’s nominees will largely depend on the deal struck between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on government formation.

By incumbency advantage I mean that outgoing University Senators and panel Senators have an advantage. It is also likely that TDs who lost their seats will be seen sympathetically and councillors with “potential” to take Dáil seats in the future. Most of the reasoning here is anecdotal so let’s park names for the time being and delve into the data.


Who votes in Seanad elections

It all depends on which Seanad election. There are two elections and one set of appointments:

  1. 43 Senators elected across 5 panels by:
    • Outgoing Senators;
    • County/City Councillors; and
    • Incoming TDs.
  2. University graduates elect 6 Senators, 3 each from:
    • National University of Ireland (UCC, UCD, NUIM and NUIG); and
    • University of Dublin (Trinity College)
  3. Taoiseach nominates 11 Senators (won’t be made until FG/FF/IND deal concluded).


The five panels and seats for each:

  1. Administrative Panel (7)
  2. Agricultural Panel (11)
  3. Cultural and Educational Panel (5)
  4. Industrial and Commercial Panel (9)
  5. Labour Panel (11)

In effect, panel names are meaningless. Elections to each panel follow party lines. There is a rule around sub-panels which I am going to ignore for this analysis. As far as I can see, it hasn’t made a material impact on elections in the past, at least for party-level results.

In modelling the panel elections, we need to know the make-up of the electorate.


In total, it appears that 1,160 people are eligible to vote in the 2016 panel elections:

  • 949 councillors
  • 53 outgoing Senators
  • 158 incoming TDs

The vote across parties is assumed as follows:

  • Fianna Fáil – 321 (28%)
  • Fine Gael – 301 (26%)
  • Independents and Others – 229 (20%)
  • Sinn Féin – 185 (16%)
  • Labour – 69 (6%)
  • AAA/PBP – 41 (4%)
  • Green – 14 (1%)


What is the recent trend in Seanad elections?

Below I outline the three most recent Seanad panel results by party.

recent results

Some key trends:

  • The panel elections are dominated by the main parties.
  • Never before has an independent been elected at a Seanad election in the recent past. This is despite the large number of independent councillors across the country, not just today but historically.
  • Sinn Féin has recently begun to win seats, in line with its growing Dáil and County Council seats.
  • Smaller parties (PDs, Green and AAA/PBP) haven’t won seats in the recent past.

It is therefore likely that the 2016 Seanad panel elections will repeat these trends. Despite a continuing rise in support for Independents, I will proceed to model the elections without Independents and will then assess the chance for individual candidates on the larger panels.


How can we forecast the Seanad elections?

For the Dáil, I spent months writing code to re-create its election process, allowing us to simulate election counts. For the Seanad elections, a simpler approach is needed. I have chosen three commonly used methods to assign seats proportionally:

Each uses various mathematically processes, which I won’t go into here. I’ve applied each to the three previous election results to test their effectiveness in forecasting the Seanad results.


In choosing a method to help us forecast 2016, we are looking for the one with the smallest error. In 2002, D’hondt and Sainte-Languë performed best (just two seats off the final result) while in 2007 and 2011, both Sainte-Languë and Haye-Niemeyer performed best (errors of eight and four seats respectively). Sainte-Languë appears strongest overall, but we will keep the other two just in case.


2016 Seanad panel forecast


Using the three seat allocation methods I determine each party to receive:

  • Fianna Fáil: 16-17 seats
  • Fine Gael: 15-16 seats
  • Labour: 2-4 seats
  • Sinn Féin: 8 seats

I must stress that such a close interval does not indicate certainty. Including independents and others produces much different results, and transfer patterns will always play a role. Note that even the closest method from above, Sainte-Languë, was incorrect for up to 8 of the 43 seats.


Analysis of candidates

As I mentioned above, candidates are short of impossible to forecast accurately for Seanad elections. The voting comes down to the ability of a candidate to impress party councillors, TDs and Senators nationwide, behind closed doors. As such, we can only count on subjective indicators to assess each candidate. I am going to attempt this here, but I would urge readers to see things from their own point of view, as well as mine.

As always, Dr. Adrian Kavanagh is keeping track of candidates, allowing us to assess the prospects for each.

The concept of sub-panels is explained here. Each panel sets a minimum number to come from each of two sub-panels. The sub-panel rule applies to the total number of Senators from that panel. Parties aren’t obliged to have a certain number from each, although it appears they aim to balance the candidates put forward from each, just in case.


Administrative Panel (7)

Likely seats:

  • Fianna Fáil – 3
  • Fine Gael – 2/3
  • Sinn Féin – 1
  • Labour – 0/1


  • Mary Fitzpatrick is likely to take one of the three seats. FF needs to improve its vote in Dublin Central, where it hasn’t held a seat since Bertie Ahern left in 2011.
  • The two outgoing Senators, Mark Daly and Diarmuid Wilson are likely for one seat between them, if not the remaining two. At the last election Daly was stronger.
  • Sean Power is a former TD. With Seán O Fearghail now Ceann Comhairle, there is an opening for Kildare South. However, only two seats will be contested here next time. FF may feel it unnecessary to “crowd the field” so to speak.


  • Having contested the General Election unsuccessfully, it is likely that either Maura Hopkins or Paudie Coffey would take a seat here. Coffey has the edge of being a former Junior Minister and having been elected to the Seanad before, while Hopkins has the edge of representing Roscommon, where FG currently has no TD.
  • Of the three Senators, Martin Conway polled best the last time, and is likely to do so again.



Independents/ Others

  • None likely to win. If one does make it, either of the two councillors Mary Roche and Thomas Welby are likely.


Agricultural Panel (11)


Likely seats:

  • Fianna Fáil – 4
  • Fine Gael – 4
  • Sinn Féin – 2
  • Labour – 1


  • Connie Gerrety Quinn contested for the party in Longford-Westmeath. She is most likely from the point of view of securing representation for Co. Longford, which managed to return no TD.
  • Michael Smith contested for the party in Tipperary. FF already has one seat here, but traditionally has two. This should help Smith’s chances.
  • Pat Hayes is from Clare where FF had the votes for two seats at the election but missed out.
  • The three outgoing Senators here are Paschal Mooney, Brian O’Domhnaill, and Denis O’Donovan. At least one should be returned, if not all three. The last election on this panel suggests Senator O’Domhnaill is likely to stay.


  • Having lost their seats at the General Election, Noel Coonan from Tipperary and Anthony Lawlor from Kildare North are likely to take seats here. Coonan is more likely considering FG has no seat in Tipperary.
  • Paddy Burke performed strongest on this panel last time.
  • Of the councillors contesting, Maria Byrne (Limerick City) and Tim Lombard (Cork South West) come from constituencies where FG lost seats last time but will be looking to re-gain in the future. Considering Michael Noonan is almost certainly serving his last term, Byrne may have the stronger chance.


  • The candidates here are Rose Conway-Walsh from Mayo, and outgoing Galway West Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. If Sinn Féin only manages one here, Conway Walsh is likely to miss out.


  • Only one candidate – Senator Dennis Landy. 

Independents/ Others

  • None likely to win. If one does make it, either of the two councillors Victor Boyhan and Jennifer Whitmore are likely.


 Cultural and Educational Panel (5)


Likely seats:

  • Fianna Fáil – 2
  • Fine Gael – 2
  • Sinn Féin – 1


  • The party is likely to choose candidates with a view to the next election. Those who missed out at the 2016 election include Malcolm Byrne (Wexford), Jennifer Cuffe (Wicklow), Lorraine Clifford (Dublin Fingal), and John Connolly (Galway West). Based on how close each came to taking a seat, I think Byrne is certain for one of the two. Connolly is likely for the second seat.


  • Having lost their seats at the General Election, Kieran O’Donnell (Limerick City) and Gabrielle McFadden (Longford-Westmeath) are most likely here. O’Donnell is more likely considering he performed best at the election.
  • Jim D’Arcy is the only outgoing Senator for FG on this panel. He is a Taoiseach’s nominee so this is his first contest on a panel. He will need to outperform one of the ex-TDs above to take one of the two seats.


Independents/ Others

  • None likely to win. If one does make it, councillor Joe Conway is likely.


Industrial and Commercial Panel (9)


Likely seats:

  • Fianna Fáil – 3/4
  • Fine Gael – 3
  • Sinn Féin – 2
  • Labour – 0/1


  • Catherine Ardagh is near certain for a seat here, following her strong performance in Dublin South Central at the General Election.
  • Of the remaining councillors, Gerry Horkan (Dublin Rathdown) looks likely. FF needs a new candidate to take over from Mary White.
  • There is no outgoing Senator here, but two former TDs are contesting, Niall Blaney (Donegal) and Thomas McEllistrim (Kerry). The difficulty with Donegal is that it already has two FF TDs. It may not be viewed favourably to crowd this area with a Senator when other areas need more coverage. Kerry has only one TD, where it traditionally holds two. This should help McEllistrim.


  • Having lost their seats at the General Election, James Bannon (Longford-Westmeath), and Ray Butler (Meath West) are contesting this panel. Bannon is more likely to win a seat, since Co. Longford no longer has a TD representing it.
  • There are five FG outgoing Senators contesting. Only one can be assured re-election, with two possible. Imelda Henry polled strongest here the last time, followed by Paul Coghlan, and Colm Burke. 
  • Of the councillors contesting, William Lavelle from Dublin Mid West appears strongest. FG lost a seat in that constituency at the General Election, and it may be the last election contested by Frances Fitzgerald (unless she becomes FG leader).


  • The candidates here are former TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal) and Ciaran Staunton (running as an independent but has been endorsed by the party). Mac Lochlainn is the favourite of the two if only one seat is available.


  • Former Minister Aodhain O’Riordain (Dublin Bay North) is very likely for a seat. Having came so close to a seat at the General Election, and having championed a number of progressive social causes while equality minister, it is likely he may win support beyond Labour councillors to win a seat.

Independents/ Others

  • None likely to win. If one does make it, councillor Deirdre O’Donovan from the Shane Ross Independent Alliance appears the most likely.


Labour Panel (11)


Likely seats:

  • Fianna Fáil – 4
  • Fine Gael – 4
  • Sinn Féin – 2
  • Labour – 1


  • Three General Election candidates are contesting here: Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West), Jennifer Murnane O’Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny), and Colm Keaveney (Galway East). McAuliffe and Murnane O’Connor came very close to seats at the election, and are thus most likely of the three. Keaveney was unable to keep a seat he already had, suggesting he is not viewed favourably within the party. He only recently joined from Labour.
  • Two outgoing Senators here are Ned O’Sullivan and Terry Leyden. Both performed similarly well at the last election. I think only one may be safe for a seat, considering the others in contention.
  • Kate Feeney (Dun Laoghaire) is the strongest of the councillors contesting. With Mary Hanafin now presumably out of politics again, this leaves a space open on the ticket in Dun Laoghaire for the next election.


  • Having lost their seats at the General Election, Jerry Buttimer (Cork South Central), and Joe O’Reilly (Cavan Monaghan) are contesting this panel. While both come from constituencies where a seat could be gained at the next election, Buttimer is the more prominent of the two and is therefore more likely to win.
  • There are three FG outgoing Senators contesting. The last election indicates Maurice Cummins is the strongest, followed by Tony Mulcahy and Terry Brennan.  
  • Of the councillors contesting, Neale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown) appears strongest, now that Alan Shatter is presumably out of politics.


  • The candidates here are Paul Gavan and Máire Devine. Having contested the General Election, Máire Devine is likely to be the stronger of the two.


  • Former Minister Ged Nash (Louth).

Independents/ Others

  • None likely to win. If one does make it, outgoing Senator Gerard Craughwell from the Shane Ross Independent Alliance appears the most likely.


Final panel forecast

As I need to keep stressing, we’re past the point of simply looking at numbers and I am instead giving my own personal forecast. We lack sufficient data to model names like the General Election. Nonetheless, below is my forecast for the parties and panels.


There was coin flipping used to resolve some too-close-to-call situations.


University forecast



With all three incumbents contesting again, I consider two of the three likely for re-election; David Norris and Ivana Bacik. 

Sean Barrett had a much lower vote in 2011, and is therefore vulnerable. If he were to be unseated, I note two possibilities:

  • Averil Power – Former TCDSU President, now Senator. Left Fianna Fáil in 2015 over the party’s lack of involvement in the Marriage Equality referendum. Unsuccessful independent candidate in Dublin Bay North at the 2016 General Election.
  • Lynn Ruane – Current TCDSU President.




Ronan Mullen is likely to retain his seat. The 2013 protection of life bill, and the 2015 Marriage Equality referendum have provided him with lots of coverage for his rather unique outlook on society. He is also the only incumbent on the panel which helps.

The remaining two seats are too difficult to call, but a shortlist helps:

  • Michael McDowell – Former Tánaiste (2006-2007). I would be surprised if McDowell didn’t take a seat.
  • Laura Harmon – Former President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).
  • Alice Mary Higgins – Campaigns and Policy Officer with the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI). Also the daughter of Michael D. Higgins.
  • Carol Hunt – Journalist and 2016 general election candidate in Dun Laoghaire.
  • David Begg – Former General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).
  • Rory Hearne – Policy Analyst with Think-Tank for Action on Social Change (TASC).

There are of course many more notable candidates. I’ve selected those who stood out to me as likely. It is rare for candidates without significant national exposure to do well in University Seanad elections.


I’m not going to put out a forecast for these panels, because I simply have no idea who will win, and I doubt even those in greater proximity to the campaigns do either. This isn’t like a General Election where the campaigning is out in the open and we can judge (even subjectively) the strength of each campaign. I may as well get my coin out again to decide the final seats.


So, above I’ve covered the 43 panel elections, and the 6 University panel seats. The Taoiseach’s nominees will of course depend on who the new Taoiseach is, and we don’t know that yet. Voting for the panel seats is ongoing and we are expecting results towards the end of April.

2 thoughts on “Forecasting the Seanad elections

  1. Rónán Mullen has a rather unique outlook on society has he? Amazing that people who are otherwise professional have to get a dig in when it comes to talking about Rónán Mullen. I think whoever wrote that has very little grasp of the word “unique” or society.

  2. Some of his views are rather “unique”. He accuses the labour party of having an “anti-catholic bigotry” vis-a-vis legislation to free up places in primary schools for children who have not been baptised. What absolute nonsense from an elected and educated Irish politician.

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