Dublin Mid-West Constituency profile: An eclectic mix of voters, issues, and candidates

Fine Gael’s best chance of winning one of the four by-elections is in Dublin Mid-West.

Emer Higgins’ campaign is boosted by no less a figure than the Taoiseach, who is telling Dublin Mid-West constituents that, if elected, she would have the ear of cabinet ministers.
Emer Higgins’ campaign is boosted by no less a figure than the Taoiseach, who is telling Dublin Mid-West constituents that, if elected, she would have the ear of cabinet ministers.

The constituency stretching from heavily populated areas of Clondalkin in the north to Brittas on the Wicklow border in the south has an eclectic mix of voters, issues, and candidates.

High-profile TDs have hailed from the four-seater, including former PD leader Mary Harney, Fianna Fáil’s Liam Lawlor, and, more recently, former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

The by-election is to replace Ms Fitzgerald who was elected as an MEP in May. The three remaining sitting TDs are Eoin Ó Broin (SF), John Curran (FF), and Gino Kenny (Sol-PBP).

Issues for voters include limited space on public transport, the cost of housing, street crime, and, more recently, the quality of water for cooking and drinking.

There is a consensus that this is Fine Gael’s vote to lose, and there is a slight jealousy of the money and backing for the party’s young councillor, Emer Higgins.

She was selected a few years ago as a Fine Gael general election candidate and topped the poll in the locals in Clondalkin. Her campaign for this vote got off to a bad start, however, when she was forced to admit to the Irish Examiner, and apologised over, declaring in a letter in 2014 to residents that the scrapping of a Traveller housing scheme was a “victory for the community”.

Fine Gael is still pulling out all the stops for Ms Higgins. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was out campaigning with her earlier this month and tweeted a video of the pair of them in a local café.

By-election candidate Emer Higgins, Fine Gael, on the campaign trail with fellow councillor John McGahon.
By-election candidate Emer Higgins, Fine Gael, on the campaign trail with fellow councillor John McGahon.

The constituency was originally created for the 2002 general election and comprises the towns of Lucan, Clondalkin, Rathcoole, and Saggart.

Recent problems with the Leixlip Water Treatment Plant, located in the constituency, which was at the centre of boil notices, would not have done the Government party candidate any favours, especially with restrictions imposed on several areas.

Candidates have been openly campaigning on the issue of water quality and the plant. In fact, Independent candidate Paul Gogarty, a favourite to do well on polling, says climate action and related issues are coming up on the doorsteps.

The former Green Party TD (who also ran under the Independent Alliance in the 2016 general election) says voters are also talking to him about public safety concerns and traffic gridlock.

They are fed up being stuck in their car.

A shooting and car set on fire last week in Lucan also sparked local fears.

“This isn’t a crime hotspot community. But there is lower-level casual drug dealing. There is a lack of gardaí,” says Mr Gogarty.

Former Green TD and now Independent candidate Paul Gogarty highlights issues from housing to traffic and water quality which have become increasingly pertinent. Picture: The Irish Times
Former Green TD and now Independent candidate Paul Gogarty highlights issues from housing to traffic and water quality which have become increasingly pertinent. Picture: The Irish Times

And again, it is the resources and services that seem to be the demands from the doorsteps — from drinkable water to more public transport to the need for more gardaí on the beat.

Mr Gogarty claims to have carried out his his own public safety survey which found almost two-thirds of people were extremely or seriously concerned about their public safety.

There are a lot of random attacks on people. And around shops, the intimidation. Before, you could shame teenagers and others involved. These days, that might be considered assault.

Mr Gogarty’s advantage is that he will benefit from transfers, with strong Green roots and a record at local level as a councillor and former TD.

However, he does risk splitting some of his vote with Green Party candidate Peter Kavanagh.

The Green councillor is coming across the same problems on the doorsteps.

“This is such a varied constituency. Public transport, traffic and green spaces are issues for people in Saggart, Newcastle, and Rathcoole," said Mr Kavanagh.

Families are also worried about the next generation who can’t afford housing. This is now the lost generation. And they can’t move out from the family home.

But at the same time, communities are concerned about new large-scale developments, that risk worsening already crowded buses and public transport routes. These include plans for some 10,000 new housing units at Clonburris, another 1,000 units in Clondalkin, and hundreds more in other towns and villages in Dublin Mid-West.

According to candidates, the problem is that there is a lack of joined-up thinking around bus routes, housing developments, and connecting roads.

Labour candidate and councillor Joanna Tuffy and Social Democrats candidate Anne-Marie McNally will also likely poll well, focusing on housing and education demands from voters.

Ms Tuffy has big-name recognition as a former TD for the constituency.

Dublin Mid-West Constituency profile:  An eclectic mix of voters, issues, and candidates

Sinn Féin’s Mark Ward may find it tough to take a second party seat alongside the area’s already elected TD, Eoin Ó Broin.

It will be interesting to see how much opposition party candidates can capitalise on the Government’s failings, including overspending on projects such as rural broadband and the national children’s hospital.

Along with garda numbers, local transport, and housing, these are the issues exercising voters on the doorsteps. By-election favourite Emer Higgins will find it hard to bat these issues away, but she has youth on her side and if she gets to Leinster House she will have a direct line to the Taoiseach — a message that Mr Varadkar has been spreading locally.

On the campaign trail with Ms Higgins recently, he told anyone who would listen that, if elected, she would have a “a hotline to ministers”. If it’s hot enough, we’ll soon find out.

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