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We should be having four by-elections this year, but will the Dáil make it that far?

The European elections have thrown up some tricky timeline issues.

Mick Wallace and Clare Daly are two of the TDs heading for Europe.
Mick Wallace and Clare Daly are two of the TDs heading for Europe.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

WE NOW KNOW that as a result of the European elections we are required to have four Dáil by-elections, soon too as a result of new legislation.

That is of course provided that we don’t have a general election in the meantime, something which can’t be ruled out and is perhaps looking more likely.

Four sitting TDs have been elected to the new European Parliament. They are:

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

Due to new legislation brought in as a result of a 2010 High Court ruling, there is now a deadline within which a vacant Dáil seat must be filled.

On that occasion, the court ruled that a 17 month delay was unreasonable. Pearse Doherty, who had taken the case, won the resulting by-election after Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher’s election to the European Parliament in June 2009.

Current legislation now means that by-elections must be held within six months of a Dáil seat being vacated. The first session of the new European Parliament is due to sit on 2 July, bringing the deadline for the writ to be moved to 2 January 2020.

That timing is far from ideal with a general election on the horizon.

At the most optimistic end of the spectrum, the current government could continue until summer 2020, as was the plan under Fianna Fáil’s commitment to the confidence and supply agreement.

That prospect had already deteriorated due to the changing Brexit timeline and the new requirement for four by-elections has only added to the probability of an earlier election.

Holding by-elections for seats that may only last few months would seem unnecessary and some Fine Gael TDs are even privately admitting that a general election is looking more likely.

On the face of it, losing two opposition TDs in the form of Daly and Wallace could actually help Fine Gael but there are no guarantees that by-elections wouldn’t bring back similar voices.

Holding by-elections also runs the risk of damaging losses ahead of a general election, something Fine Gael would be keen to avoid.

All these considerations could there precipitate an early election, the timing of which must also take account of the upcoming budget which is due in October.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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