Will The Dublin Bay South By-Election be a ‘Referendum On The Performance Of The Government’?

Published on 1 May 2021 at 12:25

In the last few days, due to Eoghan Murphy resigning his seat, this means that there is a constitutional obligation on the Government to move a writ to hold a by-election within the next 6 months. It is likely that this by-election will take place in the autumn, around October/November. This depends on when the Government wants to move the writ for a by-election within 6 months.


It is highly likely that the Government will have to consider how to hold an election during the Covid-19 pandemic, as Eoghan Murphy previously led the plans to investigate how the Government could hold an election, during the Covid-19 pandemic, last year, when he was a Minister. Reaction immediately that came from the opposition, included Social Democrats co-leader, Róisín Shortall, who said that the Social Democrats would be contesting the by-election and this by-election would be a ‘referendum on the performance of the Government’. Will this by-election that is being held in Dublin Bay South at some stage within the next 6 months, a ‘referendum on the performance of the Government’?


Some would say that to some extent, it is a referendum on the performance of the Government, especially in relation to how it has handled the Covid-19 pandemic. Any election that is held at these times, is possibly a referendum on Government performance. However, it is not necessarily the most crucial indicator of the Government’s performance or the current support for political parties. For example, in the 4 by-elections held in November 2019, despite having Mark Ward elected in Dublin Mid-West, Sinn Féin lagged behind Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in most of those by-elections and ended up winning the highest first preference votes in the February 2020 general election, just 3 months after.


By-elections are usually challenging for Government parties and can provide opportunities for opposition candidates to make a name for themselves, put themselves forward for election and get elected to Dáil Éireann. The past 12 by-elections that have been held since November 2010 do not make for good reading for the Government as only 3 out of 12 Government party candidates have been elected. Since May 2014, a Government party candidate has not been elected in a by-election which was Fine Gael candidate, Gabrielle McFadden at the time, who lost her seat in the subsequent 2016 general election. 


However, it is not necessarily realistic to say that a Government party candidate will not get elected in the upcoming Dublin Bay South by-election. This constituency was only formed in the 31st Dáil after electoral boundary changes took place under the Electoral Act 2012. In the first general election in this constituency, in 2016, two Fine Gael candidates were elected, both Eoghan Murphy and Kate O’Connell, whilst Jim O’Callaghan and Eamon Ryan were also elected.


In the 2020 general election, Kate O’Connell lost her seat, whilst Eamon Ryan, Sinn Féin candidate and former Fianna Fáil TD, Chris Andrews, Eoghan Murphy and Jim O’Callaghan were elected. According to RTÉ News, Fine Gael won ‘28% of the first preference votes there last year’. However, it will certainly be an intriguing election to see whether Fine Gael are able to sustain their support in this constituency or whether Sinn Féin make further gains on Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. All of the main parties are likely to run a candidate in the by-election. 


According to RTÉ News, ‘Fine Gael must choose between former TD, Kate O’Connell and Councillor, James Geoghegan… The party’s organisation on the ground will pick the candidate… Early indications are that James Geoghegan has the edge on that front notwithstanding Kate O’Connell winning 6,424 first preference votes in the last election’. Meanwhile, it is possible and likely that the Green Party will select the chair of the party, Hazel Chu. ‘Fianna Fáil look likely to select one of their local councillors: Deirdre Conroy or Claire O’Connor’.


Meanwhile, Labour Senator, Ivana Bacik has already announced her intention to run in the Dublin Bay South by-election. So far, in her political career, she has been a Senator in the Seanad since 2007 and narrowly missed out on a seat in the Dun Laoghaire constituency in the 2011 general election as her Labour colleague and the then Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore topped the poll.


It is likely that Sinn Féin will ‘select former MEP and current Senator Lynn Boylan to contest the by-election’. However, it could instead select sitting councillor, Daniel Céitinn. The Social Democrats and People Before Profit will also contest the by-election with Sarah Durcan, the likely candidate for the Social Democrats who ran in the 2020 general election and Brigid Purcell who is the People Before Profit rep for Dublin Bay South. 


It will be intriguing to see which candidate for each party is chosen and which candidate gets elected in the by-election in Dublin Bay South. Despite past elections showing that this constituency is a stronghold for the traditional parties, it is still likely to be a tight race. If I had to make any predictions, it will be between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin for the seat, as the Fianna Fáil candidates do not have a high profile.


Despite this, this may depend on whether Sinn Féin selects a high profile candidate who is able to highlight and articulate the issues associated with housing in the constituency and the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. It may be a crucial factor for any future hopes for a leadership bid for Jim O’Callaghan for Fianna Fáil. One cannot underestimate Hazel Chu who got 4,000 first preference votes in the 2019 local elections in the Pembroke constituency, which resides in Dublin Bay South.


Labour Party candidate, Ivana Bacik, who is also likely to perform well in the need for the revival of the Labour Party in Dublin and the Independent candidates who may also pose a surprise. It will certainly be a challenge and combined with this, the support for a female voice for the Dublin Bay South, as the constituency currently is an all-male constituency, makes for an intriguing election, in the Government’s first election since its term of office began in the summer of 2020. 

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