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State of the (very early) race: Here's how the parties are shaping up ahead of the by-elections

By-elections are notoriously difficult for government parties but Fine Gael has been preparing.

It's still a couple of months away yet but candidates have already been chosen.
It's still a couple of months away yet but candidates have already been chosen.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR all but confirmed during the week that the upcoming by-elections will be held at the end of November

We’ve no firm date yet but the indications are that Friday 29 November is looking the most likely day. 

Regardless of the details, the parties have already been busying themselves selecting candidates and jostling for position. So it’s probably a good time for a snapshot at how it’s shaping up just over two months out. 

For those caught unawares about the upcoming by-elections, they’re happening as a result of the four TDs who vacated their seats after being elected to the European Parliament in May

The four seats vacated that now have to be filled are:

  • Frances Fitzgerald (FG) – Dublin Mid-West
  • Clare Daly (I4G) – Dublin Fingal
  • Billy Kelleher (FF) – Cork North-Central
  • Mick Wallace (I4C) – Wexford 

The identities in those four seats hasn’t changed the Dáil mathematics too much, with the Fianna Fáil abstention under the confidence and supply agreement meaning the government’s effective majority hasn’t really been changed.  

But this could well be different after the by-elections with Fine Gael in a weaker or stronger position depending on how they’ll go. 

Sitting governments traditionally have a tough time winning by-elections, as Varadkar admitted to colleagues during the week, but the party has been quick out of the blocks in selecting candidates and getting their campaigns moving. 

Already, Fine Gael has officially selected three of four candidates and four ministers have been chosen as directors of election in each constituency.  

The only constituency yet to officially chose a candidate is in Dublin Mid-West, where the party is defending a seat, but councillor Emer Higgins is currently the only nominee ahead of the convention on 4 October.

Higgins was previously selected as a candidate in the next general election at the end of 2017 so she told TheJournal.ie that she has been focused on the Dáil for the past two years.

Higgins also acknowledged that by-elections can be challenging for government parties but said that she has been campaigning for some time.   

“I suppose the record of any party in governments when it comes to by-elections kind of speaks for itself. But I’m a really strong candidate, I’m somebody who’s been a councillor for eight years and I’ve been working really hard on the ground.”

Higgins may well face a difficult task in winning in a single-seat race in a constituency that has a strong opposition vote.

Sinn Féin’s Eoin O’Broin topped the poll ahead of Fitzgerald in 2016 with Fianna Fail’s John Curran winning a seat and Solidarity’s Gino Kenny taking the last one.

Kenny beat off competition from Anne-Marie McNally of the Social Democrats for the final seat in 2016 and McNally will be running in upcoming by-election. 

McNally says it feels slightly strange to have a by-election so soon after the locals and ahead of an expected general election next year. 

“It kind of feels like there could be a bit of a campaign weariness, not just amongst ourselves but amongst the electorate as well. I’m not sure how local people are going to feel about seeing more posters going up,” she told TheJournal.ie.

McNally said that as a commuting constituency with a large number of young families, housing and the price of rent are huge issues in Dublin Mid-West.

Autism services, she adds, is something that comes up repeatedly on doorsteps as well.

McNally says she hopes that the constituency profile will mean there is an “opportunity for a left-wing party”.

Particularly with Frances Fitzgerald being a senior minister for as long she was in such a powerful position, the area still didn’t benefit well at all from her there. So I think there’s a bit of soreness there about that.

McNally says that if Fine Gael were to fail to win any of the four by-elections it would put them in a “precarious position” and give the opposition greater influence over the timing of the general election.

“Having said that, and I can only speak for my own area, I can see the money and the finances that has been pumped by Fine Gael into the campaign out here. And they have been for the last number of months, obviously, in anticipation of this,” she adds. 

Of the other parties, Labour has chosen former TD and current councillor Joanna Tuffy to contest the by-election in an attempt to win back the seat she won on two occasions. 

Green Party councillor Peter Kavanagh, who was elected for the first time in May, will be attempting to turn that momentum into a Dáil seat.

90410283_90410283 Joanna Tuffy is running for Labour in Dublin Mid West. Source: RollingNews.ie

 

Sinn Féin has not yet selected its candidates for any of the by-elections but will be contesting each of them. Its selection for Dublin Mid-West is expected to be finalised first at the end of the month before the others follow. 

Fianna Fáil hasn’t chosen its candidate yet for Dublin Mid-West, so far selecting only Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee in Dublin Fingal and councillor Padraig O’Sullivan in Cork North-Central.

Reputation

O’Sullivan will be attempting to retain Kelleher’s long-held seat and admits they are “big boots to fill”. 

“He has a reputation here in Cork North-Central, he’s served here for over 20 years. So as I said, they’ll be big boots to fill, but I relish a challenge,” he said, adding it will likely be a competitive race. 

Judging on opinion polls I suppose it could come down to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Traditionally here Labour used to to do well with Kathleen Lynch in the field, I’m not sure if they’re confirmed yet but it’ll be competitive. 

Indeed, Labour has not confirmed its candidate in the constituency with the nominations remaining upon until week of the convention. 

Fine Gael is running Senator Colm Burke in the constituency with Oliver Moran for the Green Party and Sinéad Halpin for the Social Democrats.

Infrastructural challenges are a big issue in the constituency with O’Sullivan namechecking delayed or mothballed projects like the Dunkettle Interchange and the North Ring Road.

“There’s the question of the location for a hospital that the HSE is looking to position here and there seems to be an awful lot of promises but very little delivery for the north side,” he added. 

Change

The two other Dáil vacancies are those left by the departure to Strasbourg of Independent 4 Change former deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace. Fingal and Wexford to be specific.

The two say they are considering whether they will support independents who may be running but that this has not been decided yet.

The constituencies are especially interesting because they are both ones where Fianna Fáil has a strong vote and a sitting TD in each. 

Clifford-Lee will be hoping to benefit from Darragh O’Brien’s poll-topping performance in 2016 while in Wexford Malcolm Byrne could be hoping to use his unexpectedly strong showing in the European elections as a stepping stone  

Fianna Fáil hasn’t chosen its candidate in Wexford yet but Byrne is set to be keen with councillor Lisa McDonald also an option. 

If Clifford-Lee is to win in Dublin Fingal she’ll have to beat former Fine Gael deputy leader and health minister James Reilly who’s eyeing a return to the Dáil. 

Labour will be running councillor Duncan Smith in Fingal and councillor George Lawlor in Wexford, where he recently topped the poll in his local ward. 

The Green Party has chosen Joe O’Brien as its Dublin Fingal candidate and has not yet selected for Wexford. 

The Social Democrats are running Tracey Carey in Dublin Fingal and are not contesting in Wexford.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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