The Government decision to combine the bye-elections with the Euro and Local elections considerably raises the stakes for all political parties on June 5. Voters’ verdicts will determine the fate of all party leaders and the timing of the next General Election.
Significant internal changes within political parties follows elections. The dynamic of success or rejection sends a tremor to the top.
FF obtained 41.6 per cent of the vote in the 2007 General Election. In 2004 they got 31.8 per cent in the Local and 29.5 per cent in the Euro. Recent opinion polls have them fluctuating between 23 per cent and 28 per cent. This lower figure would be their worst performance since 1922.
The consequences could be calamitous. They could conceivably lose MEPs in Dublin and North West. The loss of a seat in the capital would be unprecedented. Dublin is reduced from four seats to three. Eoin Ryan will be under pressure from Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald for the last seat.
In North West the problem is the late withdrawal of Sean Ó Neachtain. Eamon Ó Cuiv, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, and Sîle Seoige have been mooted as replacements. On paper Marian Harkin and Declan Ganley are fighting for the last seat. If FF doesn’t get a credible candidate for Galway, both could win at the expense of FF.
If FF were to forfeit 30 seats on city and county councils they would lose the narrow lead they have over Fine Gael nationally. Currently FF has 302 versus FG’s 293. FF’s bye-election prospects in Dublin South and Dublin Central are poor. No government candidate has won a bye-election since Galway East TD Noel Treacy in July 1982.
The key electoral asset of Bertie Ahern was that he could obtain extra seats through transfers from all sides. Brian Cowen is perceived as more combative and less consensual. FF cannot win either bye-election without preferences from eliminated candidates.
FG needs to convert poll strength of more than 30 per cent into concrete electoral results. Their targets are established: Bye-election wins for Senator Paschal Donohue in Dublin Central and George Lee in Dublin South. Hold all five MEP seats. Win more than 300 seats to be the biggest player on local councils.
Jim Higgins (North West ), Gay Mitchell (Dublin ), Mairéad McGuinness (East ), and Sean Kelly (South ) should be victorious. Senator John Paul Phelan from Kilkenny will have a real battle on his hands to hold Avril Doyle’s seat. An energetic and bright newcomer, he is relatively unknown.
The unpopularity of the Government, the mood for change from 12 years of continuous FF administration, and the unprecedented problems of economic recession make the most favourable and fortuitous circumstances for Enda Kenny to be victorious.
Labour won 83 council seats in 1999 and 101 in 2004. Their 206 candidates on city and county councils have an opportunity for significant gains. In the EU elections, Proinsias De Rossa should be re-elected in Dublin. Labour’s key hopes lie with Nessa Childers in East and Senator Alan Kelly in South. If their current opinion poll rating of 19 per cent translates to votes Labour could win three European seats.
Labour are also in with a shout in the by-elections. Senator Alex White has been the only declared candidate in the Dublin South by-election campaign from the outset. Senator Ivana Bacik’s candidacy in Dublin Central could ignite with support from sitting TD Joe Costello. Eamon Gilmore faces his first test as party leader. His forthright style could catapult the party to significant successes.
Sinn Féin’s key target is for Mary Lou McDonald to retain her seat in Dublin and provide a platform for future Dáil candidates through the local elections.
Libertas is the unknown quantity of these Euro elections. Declan Ganley is the only Libertas candidate with a credible chance of success in North West. Any double digit showing would be respectable.
Independents Kathy Sinnott and Marian Harkin will be there or thereabouts at the final count. Independents with solid community service, will do really well in the locals.
Let battle commence...