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Dublin Bay South by-election: The runners and riders in 'Ireland's most affluent constituency'

Eoghan Murphy has resigned his seat, throwing the cat amongst the pigeons.

FRANCES FITZGERALD 8L5A6201 Eoghan Murphy, Frances Fitzgerald and Kate O'Connell during the European election count in 2019. Source: LeahFarrell/RollingNews.ie

DUBLIN BAY SOUTH and the various constituency iterations that preceded it have always provided political fireworks down through the years and so it continues.

The decision by former minister Eoghan Murphy to resign his seat puts the cat among the proverbial pigeons and forces a by-election that political anoraks are already salivating over.  

It’ll come as little surprise that DBS occupies an outsized space in the political map, likely due to research naming it as “by far the most affluent” constituency in the country.

The fact that DBS is the home of RTÉ’s Donnybrook HQ probably doesn’t hurt either.  

In addition, the characters involved are often national figures too. A fact not unconnected to the apparent wealth or the perceived importance of the area. 

2007′s Rumble in Ranelagh between Michael McDowell and John Gormley is surely the most infamous example of these local tussles, but we’ve seen others in recent years too. 

Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell sprung a surprise to unseat former party colleague Lucinda Creighton in the 2016 general election in a race that was very much touted as a battle between the pair

Four years later, O’Connell’s high profile didn’t spare her a similar fate as Murphy took the only seat Fine Gael managed to hold in the four-seater. 

His departure perhaps now leaves the door ajar for O’Connell’s return but nothing can be taken for granted, so who will be in the running? 

2020

First thing’s first, the sitting TDs in the area are: Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrews, the departing Murphy and Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan

Ryan was elected on the first count ahead of Andrews last year, with Murphy taking the third seat and O’Callaghan squeezing O’Connell out for the final seat

Fine Gael

Murphy and O’Connell had plenty of votes combined to take a seat on the first count if there was just one candidate, suggesting the constituency is one where Fine Gael probably won’t mind fighting a by-election. 

Sitting governments generally struggle in by-elections but in this Fine Gael heartland the party will be feeling confident, especially when the party is polling as the leader in Dublin

O’Connell seems like an obvious choice to carry the party’s banner but the decision by Fine Gael’s national executive not to support her for a Seanad seat is perhaps evidence of some bad blood between the various camps. 

O’Connell has benefitted from her profession as a pharmacist providing a reason for her to be a continued presence on the airwaves during Covid-19. 

Last year she gave RTÉ’s Claire Byrne a flu jab on live TV and has been on the station’s flagship weekend Brendan O’Connor programme on several occasions. 

On one such appearance O’Connell pledged that she wasn’t finished in politics, while another appearance saw her question Leo Varadkar’s leadership in the wake of the leaking investigation, suggesting that he hasn’t “delivered” for the party

It remains to be seen whether such outspoken comments will hurt her chances of being selected by the party or indeed whether her media savvy will prove to be a benefit.

For his part, Murphy said that he spoke to O’Connell ahead of his announcement this morning, telling her that “now is the time to start preparing” for a selection convention that will follow. 

Varadkar also said today that “the hardworking members and activists for Fine Gael” in the area are best placed to select the area and that he will “support that candidate 100%”.

In the case of a local convention, local councillor from the Pembroke ward James Geoghegan is already being talked about as potentially the man to beat. 

Pembroke represents the leafiest part of the leafy constituency and the barrister was quickly out with a tweet today saying all the right things about Murphy while emphasising that “local members will work as a team” during the by-election. 

Geoghegan has been particularly active on social media of late and could well be seen as the continuity candidate after Murphy in the blue blood Fine Gael territory. 

The only other name Murphy mentioned as a potential replacement during his almost 40-minute interview on Today with Claire Byrne was that of Dublin MEP and former minister Frances Fitzgerald, who previously represented the area. 

Murphy’s namecheck of Fitzgerald seemed rather random but she quickly sought to dampen any such speculation not long after Murphy’s interview had finished.  

So what of the other parties? 

Another interesting angle in the exciting by-election race will be the impressive Green Party vote in the constituency. 

Aside from Ryan topping the poll in the general election, the Greens have three councillors in the DBS area: Claire Byrne in the South East Inner City, Carolyn Moore in Kimmage-Rathmines and Lord Mayor Hazel Chu in the aforementioned Pembroke. 

Chu’s name has been trending ever since Murphy’s announcement today with the bookies placing her among the favourites for the seat. 

The support comes with good reason too, with Chu securing a whopping 33% of first preference votes in the 2019 local elections, more then double the second-placed candidate.

Chu is of course fresh off a disappointing failed run for the Seanad when she defied her party leadership to seek election to the upper house, causing all manner of internal strife in the process

A run for the Dáil in her party leader’s own constituency would not quell any such divisions and could cause further problems if both were to seek re-election. Based on name recognition alone though, her candidacy is difficult to ignore. 

Green Party deputy leader Catherin Martin said today that an electoral taskforce and committee would have to look at selections but that she “presumes” the party will contest the by-election.  

“It’s not for me, as deputy leader, to step into another constituency and decide to back someone. That would be inappropriate, because it’s not my constituency,” Martin said when pushed on whether she would support Chu. 

Martin did concede that she “would like to see a woman elected” but with each of the party’s local councillors being female this doesn’t exactly narrow it down. 

Chu wasn’t giving much away today despite numerous tweets asking her about her intentions, responding only to Mayo’s Saoirse McHugh sarcastically suggesting she might run herself.

“Welcome to Dublin Bay South x,” was Chu’s reply.

file-photo-two-vacant-seanad-seats-are-to-be-filled-today-as-the-election-count-gets-under-way-this-morning-dublin-lord-mayor-hazel-chu-caused-controversy-when-she-announced-plans-to-run-as-an-indep The Green Party's Hazel Chu. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

The third coalition party Fianna Fáil could be facing a tricky by-election, with the party perhaps not possessing the star power in the area held by its partners.

O’Callaghan may be tipped as a future leader of his party but his electoral performance in sneaking fourth place last year can’t exactly be described as stellar. 

The party has put a big emphasis on increasing its vote in Dublin where it has performed poorly in recent years and this by-election could prove to be a bellwether of where it is in that regard. 

The party has two councillors in the area, Deirdre Conroy in Kimmage-Rathmines and Claire O’Connor in Pembroke, who will likely be seen as the favourites if the party decides to blood some local hopefuls. 

Speaking today, Taoiseach and party leader Micheál Martin said that his party will be fielding candidates in what he said was an unexpected by-election. 

“It’s quite an exciting by-election if you think about the potential personalities that always emerge from these contests,” he said. 

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Part of the reason for Fianna Fáil’s relative weakness in DBS is Sinn Féin, which has taken many of its votes but has also literally taken its TD as well. 

Andrews was formerly a Fianna Fáil TD before making the switch to Sinn Féin, for whom he was first elected as a councillor before being elected to the Dáil again last year. 

Andrews’ main power base is in the eastern part of the constituency around Ringsend where he has been vocal on planning issues, with Sinn Féin likely to use the by-election to try to broaden its support base whilst seeking to make it a referendum on the government. 

The party has already started that process today, with a statement out saying the by-election in DBS “will be about housing and will be about rents”.

Sinn Fein senator Lynn Boylan has been tipped today as a potential candidate but she is associated more in the Tallaght area of Dublin South West, so the party may feel she is better deployed elsewhere. 

The party has one councillor in DBS in the form of 26-year-old Daniel Céitinn

Who else is in the running?

The interest in the by-election is likely to mean that all or most parties will seek to be involved, with several already coming out of the blocks declare their interest. 

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said she would be seeking the nomination for her party, noting that she has lived in the area for a long time and that she would “absolutely” be putting her name forward. 

Labour Plinth 001 Labour Senator Ivana Bacik Source: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

Due to some timely scheduling, Bacik was on the Plinth in Leinster House this morning not long after Murphy’s news broke and was able to confirm her desire to run to the media in person. 

She was joined by Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD who shared his support for her candidacy, with Bacik stating that the constituency “needed a woman’s voice”. 

Bacik may get a clear run at being Labour’s candidate but, if not, her likely competition could be councillors Kevin Donoghue or Dermot Lacey

Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall said today the party will contest the by-election but didn’t suggest a name, with Sarah Durcan being the SocDem’s most recent candidate in the area.

People Before Profit also confirmed today that it would be running a candidate, with the party previously running Annette Mooney and before that Peter Dooley, who is now part of the Dublin Renters Union.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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