It was generally held that byelections should be held within six months of the seat being vacated, but it is now over a year since Pat The Cope Gallagher stood down, following his election to the European Parliament in 2009.
No government party has won a byelection since 1982. The last byelection was held in Dublin South – in conjunction with the European and local elections of 2009 – to fill the seat vacated by the death of Seamus Brennan. Fianna Fáil was thought to have an excellent chance of holding the seat with the late deputy’s son representing the party, but he only managed to finish third behind George Lee of Fine Gael.
Last February, just nine months after his election, Deputy Lee resigned the seat in frustration at his lack of influence within both Fine Gael and the Dáil. The following month Martin Cullen of Fianna Fáil resigned from the Dáil on health grounds.
Fine Gael introduced legislation earlier this year to ensure that byelections were held within six months of a vacancy, but the Government blocked it. The convention has been that the party that last held the vacated seat should move the byelection writ. Fine Gael could provide leadership on this issue by moving the writ for the Dublin South byelection, but it has shirked its responsibility because the Labour Party would likely win the seat this time.
Delaying the byelections amounts to a subversion of the will of the people.
Fine Gael has an opportunity to lead in Dublin South, while Mr O’Dea and just a handful of Fianna Fáil deputies could and should, by their own initiative, end this subversion of the democratic process.