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Mary Lou McDonald with candidates Amy Farrell and Seamus McGrattan on polling day. Alamy Stock Photo
Analysis

A bad day for Sinn Féin in Mary Lou's backyard, as far right and government make gains

It’s a microcosm of the party’s problem in electoral areas across Ireland: too many candidates vying for too little vote share.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Jun

WITH SEATS FILLING quickly in the capital, a depressing picture is emerging for Sinn Féin in party leader Mary Lou McDonald’s heartland where just two of seven council hopefuls are likely to be elected.

It’s a microcosm of the party’s problem in electoral areas across the country: too many Sinn Féin candidates vying for too small a share of the vote to get candidates across the line. 

Sinn Fein has secured only 12% of first preference votes nationally with most first counts completed this evening, 10 points behind Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, while Independents and the smaller Opposition parties have reaped much of the benefit of any anti-government vote McDonald might have hoped would be hers for the taking.

In the north inner city, only incumbent councillor Janice Boylan has been successful in a ward which comprises about half of McDonald’s Dublin Central Dáil constituency and where it ran three candidates.

Split vote

In the adjoining Cabra-Glasnevin ward, also part of McDonald’s home turf, Séamus McGrattan, a Sinn Féin councillor for the past 15 years, is trailing in eighth place as of the 13th count tonight, in a seven-seater ward where his party ran four candidates.

Transfers from his three running mates are likely to see McGrattan scrape the last seat here ahead of Labour councillor Declan Meenagh. 

An overambitious roster of candidates may have squandered a chance to bring in two candidates here, with the party’s non-McGrattan vote fairly evenly split between two of his running mates, Drumcondra-based Calum Atkinson and Cabra-based Amy Farrell, who runs Mary Lou McDonald’s constituency office, with about 930 votes apiece.

The party parachuted Natalie Treacy, a councillor for Castleknock on neighbouring Fingal County Council, into the Cabra-Glasnevin ward too, but she polled poorly and was eliminated early in the count.

McDonald topped the poll in Dublin Central in 2020 with almost two full quotas – raising quite a few questions as to why she hadn’t brought a running mate home with her, amid a nationwide failure by the party to turn its strong vote into the a corresponding number of Dáil seats. Trying to not make the same mistake this time has obviously backfired, especially amid a decline in the party’s popularity over recent months borne out by several opinion polls.

PastedImage-10611 The 13th count results from Dublin City Council's Cabra-Glasnevin electoral area. Dublin City Council Dublin City Council

Fine Gael gains

Fine Gael has taken the biggest share of first preference votes in both Dublin Central wards, after only scraping the sixth seat in the north inner city in 2019: it’s a strong result for the party 

The government party looks set to bring in two candidates in the adjoining Cabra-Glasnevin electoral area. Minister for Expenditure Paschal Donohoe, also a TD for the constituency, was only delighted, as he told our reporter

Left-wing Independent councillor Cieran Perry, a veteran of the bin and water charges protest movements, was the first candidate returned in Cabra-Glasnevin this afternoon, followed by Green Party first-time candidate Feljin Jose, a campaigner on public transport and active travel with the Dublin Commuter Coalition who received the highest first preference vote of any of the individual candidates here.

The more cautious approach taken by Fine Gael and the Green Party – running fewer candidates to ensure their vote is not split in these large and diverse wards – has paid off and contrasts strongly with Sinn Féin’s struggles.

Interpreting her party’s poor showing when she spoke to the media this afternoon, McDonald noted that anti-government votes had been picked up by Independents and others.

In her own consituency, along with poll-topping Perry, Independent seats have been picked up by veteran councillor Christy Burke (a former Sinn Féin member) and fourth-time councillor Nial Ring.

When The Journal walked around the north inner city recently with Burke and other candidates, it was clear that immigration was an issue on the doorsteps for some voters: not all, but enough to secure election for anti-immigration Independent candidate Malachy Steenson earlier today.

Steenson had the fifth highest vote share in the seven-seat north inner city when he was elected on the 12th count, albeit just short of a full quota. His election to Dublin City Council, along with that of Gavin Pepper in Ballymun-Finglas, marks a breakthrough for Ireland’s far right, which has long failed to make electoral gains. 

IMG_9840 Malachy Steenson (in suit and tie) and supporters celebrate in the RDS.

When Mary Lou McDonald arrived at the RDS earlier today, she was warmly, even affectionately, welcomed by the party’s members and supporters.

As she did a circle of the count centre, she was met every few metres by a candidate or canvasser with a few words for her – usually tinged with some disappointment, but the feeling was more one of party members seeking solidarity with their leader rather than one of putting the blame on her.

The message McDonald brought was that Sinn Féin would “learn and listen” before the next election.  

With reporting by Lauren Boland in the RDS count centre.

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