The Green Party expects to secure a sizeable chunk of the vote in the upcoming poll, says Elaine Loughlin.
The rise of a ‘green wave’ was the story of this year’s European and local elections.
However, the by-elections pose a real test for Eamon Ryan’s party and will provide a solid indication as to whether the most recent results were a signal of real change or simply a temporary bounce in support.
The party went from having just 12 local councillors across the country to 49 after this year’s elections. They also gained two MEPs in Ciarán Cuffe and Grace O’Sullivan.
The green wave has also resulted in a membership swell — the numbers joining have jumped by 60% in less than a year.
But with success comes an added pressure, and the party must continue to build.
They have put forward candidates in each of the four by-election constituencies and their level of support and first preferences in each will be closely monitored.
“We seem to be holding up in the polls and that support has continued, we have more people in our branches which helps provide support to candidates,” said deputy leader Catherine Martin.
Ms Martin may be putting an optimistic spin on things and the by-elections may not translate into more seats this time around, but the party will be expecting to secure a sizeable chunk of the vote to put them on a steady footing going into the next general election.
Considering this constituency takes in the area once represented by a former party leader, it’s not surprising that the Greens have their eyes set on making considerable gains in Dublin Fingal.
While Trevor Sargent enjoyed political success in the old Dublin North constituency, Clare Daly — whose seat is up for grabs after her election to the European Parliament — stole a significant slice of traditional Green votes.
Now with the Independents 4 Change TD out of the picture, the party are hoping to claw these votes back.
The signals are positive, the Greens had never exceeded 8% support in the Swords area prior to May’s local elections — however, this bounced to 11% in this year’s local elections. If they can retain this surge they will be extremely happy.
Joe O’Brien who represents the Balbriggan area on the council, has raised homeless and immigrant rights but also hopes he will appeal to young families who see public transport and childcare as major issues.
While Fianna Fáil’s Lorraine Clifford-Lee and Labour’s Duncan Smith are seen as the two main contenders, Mr O’Brien could be in with an outside chance.
A Green Party source said: “We would have started out thinking these by-elections would be a great way to build public profiles in these areas with a view to winning seats in the general. But I think it has kind of emerged that Joe is in with a shout in Fingal.”
The area has many new developments, resulting in new people coming to the area who don’t have the same awareness of or affiliation with the more established candidates, and the party is hopeful these new residents may instead follow national political trends and go Green.
While Fine Gael candidate Emer Higgins is almost certain to top the poll in the race to fill the seat vacated by former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Green Party members are quietly confident that they could claw back votes and be in with a shout for the seat when transfers are counted.
Ironically their main stumbling block could be a former member of the party.
Paul Gogarty was the first Green member to be elected in a three-seat constituency, a massive achievement at the time for a member of a small fringe party.
He did that through dogged canvassing and work in the community and has built up a reputation and a name in the locality.
This time around Mr Gogarty is standing as an Independent which undoubtedly will dilute the Green vote.
The Green Party know that their one-time Dáil representative has the Lucan area sown up and will be targeting other areas in the constituency to get support for their candidate, Cllr Peter Kavanagh.
“Peter is doing well and will certainly feature in the next five years, he could even go on to win a seat in the next general election,” said one party member.
Voters in Wexford will be faced with a ballot paper of polar opposites.
Life-long environmental campaigner Karin Dubsky will be going against Fine Gael’s Verona Murphy who, as president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, couldn’t be more different in her views.
The party didn’t put forward any candidates in the local elections in Wexford so this will be a testing of the water when it comes to support.
While not an elected representative, Ms Dubsky is a well-known name in the area as a longstanding environmental and community activist having founded the environmental organisation Coastwatch Europe, which monitors Irish coastlines for waste and threats to marine ecosystems with the help of citizen scientists.
“She has a certain degree of X-factor,” said one party member colleague of the ecologist who was involved in bringing the Blue Flags award system for beaches to Ireland.
“I think she might surprise people, I am hoping that she surprises people.”
Realistically, the Greens are unlikely to succeed over Fianna Fáil candidate Malcolm Byrne.
The 2019 local elections saw the Green Party regain its first seat on Cork City Council since 2004, when Lorna Bogue got over the line.
Three other candidates Oliver Moran, Colette Finn, and Dan Boyle went on to join her in taking up seats in City Hall, while Liam Quaide and Alan O’Connor secured seats for the party in the county.
First-time councillor Mr Moran is now hoping to make the leap to national politics in the by-election called as a result of Billy Kelleher’s move to Brussels.
However, Fianna Fáil’s Padraig O’Sullivan and Fine Gael senator Colm Burke are the main contenders to take the seat.
A large portion of the electorate now lives in the rural part of the constituency, or Cork’s commuter belt. It includes some of the city’s working-class areas such as Knocknaheeney, Churchfield and Mayfield, but also takes in the more affluent areas of Sunday’s Well and Montenotte where Mr Moran lives with his family.
Mr Moran received 8.8% of first preferences in his ward of Cork City North East Lee back in May, a figure which the party will be aiming to improve on. Overall the Greens hoovered up 10.3% of first-preference votes in the local elections in Cork City, so the party will see this as the point to reach this time around.
The by-elections have no doubt come at the right time for the Green Party — it will give them an indication as to whether the crest of the green wave was reached back in May or whether their popularity is still growing.