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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Sam Boal

This was not a vote of anger, it was a vote of community

The Taoiseach says it was anger that led to his party’s poor performance over the weekend, but the problem is more fundamental than that.
“It’s frustration and it’s anger, and it’s saying, ‘Show me where the return on my challenge and the sacrifice I have made is’”.

WHEN THE TAOISEACH spoke on Saturday night, he was perhaps channeling his inner Jose Mourinho.

‘The Special One’ has a habit in the wake of a defeat to give a soundbite that pushes the focus away from his Chelsea team. Blame referees, talk about resources or put it down to the alignment of the stars; as long as the microscope is never put on the failings of his team or, heaven forbid himself.

So, when Enda Kenny said that Fine Gael’s performance, which is down on the 2009 local and European elections, is down to austerity, he not only does a disservice to the electorate and the successful candidates, he papers over one of his party’s biggest weaknesses.

Because the reality for Fine Gael is this: there are large pockets of the country that don’t see them as a community party.

They are trusted with the keys to the car, but nobody wants them changing the oil. In Cork City, three of the six wards didn’t return a single Fine Gael councilor.

In Dublin, the large constituencies, which all expanded in these elections, mean that the party is picking up seats, but not at a rate that will put them in control of any local authorities.

In working-class areas particularly, the vote flocked from Fine Gael and Labour to candidates the community trusts. Parties and independents that have reputations for hard work with local clubs, organisations and bodies won out.

As much as the Labour Party’s vote collapsed, those who wanted what the party traditionally offered at council level still voted for those ideals.

In Lucan, two sitting Labour councillors – a former mayor and deputy mayor of South Dublin – lost their seats. In their place were parties that are known for their community work (Sinn Fein, People Before Profit), independents or well-known community activists like Fianna Fáil’s Ed O’Brien.

This trend was seen across the board, as single-issue candidates and those with deep ties to communities won out.

As one Fine Gael member, who worked with an unsuccessful candidate, put it at Saturday’s count in the RDS;

“The council is very much about the front-line services and people are recognising that. When you’re in the capitalist party of law and order, some people think you won’t make a good councillor.”

This is echoed by a Labour member.

“It’s a shame because good councillors will lose their positions, but they’re losing them to the left, mainly.”

So, why the belief in left-leaning independents and parties?

“It’s fairly simple,” says a newly-elected Sinn Féin councillor.

“People believe that the people they’re electing are most like them, so they trust them to fix the issues that matter to them.”

So, while austerity may have played some part, both Kenny and Eamon Gilmore need to do some soul-searching to establish just why there is a disconnect between their candidates and the community.

The only good news is that the next locals are five years away.

Read: Who is your new local councillor? Here’s a list of everyone elected so far

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