By-elections 2019: Shootout between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to replace Mick Wallace in Wexford

Mick Wallace was known as a straight talker in the Dáil and it will be a straight shootout between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to replace him.

By-elections 2019: Shootout between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to replace Mick Wallace in Wexford

Mick Wallace was known as a straight talker in the Dáil and it will be a straight shootout between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to replace him.

But with nine candidates in the race, the final decision will come down to transfers, eliminations, and luck.

Fine Gael’s candidate, Verona Murphy, already had a high-profile role as president of the Road Haulage Association but her views on everything from homelessness, to the National Transport Authority, to drink driving have gained attention and raised eyebrows. She has also sparked considerable controversy and placed the Fine Gael party under pressures over her remarks on asylum seekers.

Fine Gael, which is aiming to win of of the four seats up for grabs across the country, has put significant resources and energy into Ms Murphy’s campaign — anyone travelling around the constituency will have noticed the posters bearing the “she’s local and vocal” slogan.

Ms Murphy has issued a number of apologies and has visited a reception centre for asylum seekers in a bid to draw a line under the controversy, but whether her words were a self- inflicted fatal blow or merely a graze remains to be seen.

Immigration is an issue for those living in the constituency and a national spotlight was shone on Rosslare port just last week, when 16 men were found in the back of a lorry aboard a ferry bound for Wexford.

Added to this is the feeling among many that the port has been ignored when it comes to significant investment and does not enjoy the same level of support as Dublin and Cork in recent years.

In fact, at a time when Dublin port is limiting the number of cruise ships to deal with demand for more cargo capacity, Rosslare is operating at around 38% capacity.

Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne has been tipped to top the poll with Ms Murphy breathing down his neck, but the final outcome is far from clear-cut and will come down to a scrap for transfers.

Mr Byrne has been a member of Wexford County Council since 2009 and topped the poll in the Gorey ward in the May election. However, after a marathon campaign the head of communications with the Higher Education Authority missed out on a seat in the European Parliament this year. Mr Byrne managed to drum up more than 69,000 first preference votes in Ireland South, but was eventually eliminated and denied a seat on the 16th count.

“I look forward to setting out policies to address the crises in housing, health, education, and climate action, which are now the hallmarks of this Fine Gael government. I will also push for more supports for rural Ireland, which has been so badly neglected over the past eight years,” Mr Byrne said after being selected to run for Fianna Fáil in the by-election.

Also in the mix is well-established Labour councillor, George Lawlor.

Labour has always enjoyed strong support in the county, Mr Lawlor was first elected to the council in 2009 and topped the poll in his area in the local elections in May. In 2016, at a time when Labour were hemorrhaging votes across the country, party leader, Brendan Howlin, also managed to take the first Wexford seat in the general election.

He cites the lack of mental health services for young people as a pressing issue in the constituency.

Dr Kieran Moore resigned from his position as child psychiatric consultant in Wexford last year after expressing frustration over services which he said were “completely unfit for purpose”.

Mr Lawlor said: “Mental health is a major issue in Wexford, particularly in the area of child and adolescent mental health services, it could be described as a basket case.

“For over a year now, we have had no consultant child psychiatrist. We have been left in a position where we only have a service at the weekends when consultants from Galway come down.”

Dublin Fingal Cllr Joe O’Brien; Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan, candidate for Wexford Karin Dubsky Green Party Deputy leader Catherine Martin, and candidate for Dublin Mid-West Cllr Peter Kavanagh during the launch of Green party by-election candidates. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Dublin Fingal Cllr Joe O’Brien; Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan, candidate for Wexford Karin Dubsky Green Party Deputy leader Catherine Martin, and candidate for Dublin Mid-West Cllr Peter Kavanagh during the launch of Green party by-election candidates. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Wexford was one of the only places across the country where the ‘green wave’ failed to make an impact in May’s local elections. The Greens didn’t put forward a single candidate and so potential support for life-long environmental campaigner Karin Dubsky is hard to predict. While not an elected representative, Ms Dubsky is well-known as an environmental and community activist having founded 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 of the ecologist.

While the Green Party’s fortunes may be on the way up, Sinn Féin appears to have run out of luck. The party went from having five sitting councillors before May’s elections to just two afterwards and so the by-election will — they hope — offer a chance to rebuild.

Johnny Mythen narrowly lost out on a Dáil seat in 2016 when just 52 votes separated him and Fine Gael’s Paul Kehoe who was eventually elected. “At the time he would have felt that if there was a re-run he would have been elected, fast-forward three years and John didn’t even manage to retain his seat on the council,” one local source said.

“He came quite close to taking a Dáil seat so it was a complete change of fortunes for him.”

While transfers will be a major determination, turnout will also be key. Voters are not as engaged as they might be in a general election, and cold, dark, and wet nights have prevented teams from canvassing. In the dying days of the campaign, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will be doing their best to mobilise support.

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