Daniel McConnell: Will voters further weaken FG in Dáil?

Daniel McConnell: Will voters further weaken FG in Dáil?

With business exceedingly slow at polling stations yesterday, it is clear the four by-elections have not captured the public’s imagination.

Various factors such as the weather, proximity to the upcoming election, and perhaps even The Late Late Toy Show, may have played their part in voters staying home.

Voters in Dublin-Fingal, Cork North Central, Dublin Mid-West, and Wexford had their chance to select who they wanted to replace TDs elected to the European Parliament in May.

The primary significance of the votes counted today will be to determine if the Government’s already shaky position in the Dáil holds or is weakened further.

It is plausible for Fine Gael to lose all four of the seats. Given one of those vacated seats was held by former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, were that to happen, the party’s ability to pass legislation would be in doubt.

Its best hope of any seat is Lucan-based councillor Emer Higgins in the Dublin Mid-West constituency. Believing the latent goodwill toward Ms Fitzgerald will be enough to see Ms Higgins home, Fine Gael has thrown the kitchen sink at her campaign, but the big question is whether she is transfer-friendly enough.

The low turnout could easily throw up a surprise and the name of Paul Gogarty, the former Green TD, keeps coming up as a potential upset.

Paul Gogarty, canvassing
Paul Gogarty, canvassing

As for Fianna Fáil, it looks certain to win at least two of the four seats.

Given where we find ourselves in the political cycle (Fine Gael in office for eight years), it is the very least the party can expect to win, if it has real ambitions to win power next time.

Cork North Central appears to be heading the way of Fianna Fáil councillor Padraig O’Sullivan, who is looking to retain the seat vacated by Billy Kelleher.

Mr O’Sullivan has run an effective campaign and Mr Kelleher’s visible support for him has helped his case.

In saying that, some have expressed surprise as to how positively Fine Gael senator Colm Burke is coming over and could push Mr O’Sullivan close.

Fianna Fáil councillor Padraig O’Sullivan
Fianna Fáil councillor Padraig O’Sullivan

Fianna Fáil’s other big hope is Gorey-based councillor Malcolm Byrne in Wexford. Buoyed by a strong showing in the May European elections, Mr Byrne looks well placed to capitalise on the controversy which has engulfed Fine Gael candidate Verona Murphy.

However, if Ms Murphy won or came a close second, it would create a big dilemma for Leo Varadkar as to his ticket selection for the general election. Ms Murphy’s comments on migrants needing to be “deprogrammed” have been disowned by her own senior party colleagues.

Fianna Fáil is also hoping for a strong showing from Fingal-based senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, who is in a three-horse race with Labour councillor Duncan Smith and Green Party councillor Joe O’Brien.

First count results are expected to be announced by early this afternoon.

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