Dublin West a litmus test for parties

In search of a constituency to explain the myriad of issues currently affecting political parties? Then look no further than Dublin West’s by-election.

Fresh from a slew of difficult opinion polls, Labour is seeking to replace a one-time party TD who became an Independent after refusing to back government policy with an internal candidate unlikely to rock the already rocking boat;

A celebrity politician has been parachuted in for Fine Gael to help sell the government line as it pushes through unpopular policies.

A Fianna Fáil candidate has had to fight off competition from the sister of the late Brian Lenihan — his former running mate — as the party bids to break with the past.

The Socialist Party is gunning for a record second seat in one constituency (Joe Higgins holds one) as it and Sinn Féin bid to vacuum up disaffected Labour voters.

And let’s not forget the growing cluster of colourful Independents, chief among them the ex-Fianna Fáil mortgage relief campaigner who until last year had a small share in a casino.

Add in that the diverse, sprawling commuter-belt constituency includes deprived and wealthy locales, is home to two high-profile ministers, and has thousands of young families on the housing waiting list, and you get the picture.

Dublin West is the litmus test for Ireland’s political parties, and what their futures hold.

After the March resignation of Independent TD Patrick Nulty over inappropriate messages to young women, on May 1 Taoiseach Enda Kenny called a snap by-election.

With the water charges furore lapping at voters’ doors Socialist Party councillor Ruth Coppinger is riding high — followed closely by Fianna Fáil councillor David McGuinness and Independent David Hall.

The face-off between Cllrs Coppinger and McGuinness is drawing most attention, after their almost inseparable vote tallies three years ago.

While the 2011 by-election saw Mr Nulty take a seat, the Fianna Fáil and Socialist Party candidates were neck and neck for second, being so close by count four they had identical records.

With the 2014 sequel looming, Ms Coppinger is the slight favourite — in part because of an expectation some of Mr Nulty’s support will migrate to her.

The Socialist Party candidate insisted people should turn to her as “there are enough TDs representing business interests already” — and took a swing at Mr McGuinness by claiming he will “melt into the furniture” of the Dáil’s “bondholder agenda”.

Mr McGuinness said the Socialist Party has miscalculated because it cannot depend on votes in Swords — a town between Dublin North and Dublin West — after “shafting” ex-party member Clare Daly TD, who has support there. The councillor added his base in working class Corduff will also see votes fall his way.

And he said he was elected to run “on the first count” instead of other options, including the late Brian Lenihan’s sister Anita.

However, he stressed Mr Lenihan had a strong base locally and moving away from this — an apparent Fianna Fáil national policy — is “something I hear from media commentators” only.

The Government parties are also in the mix, albeit further back. In what is seen as a bid to put a popular face on unpopular policies, Fine Gael has chosen Olympian Eamonn Coghlan.

While the retired athlete admits he is a political newcomer, having been a 2011 Taoiseach Seanad appointee, he attempted to put a positive spin on this during a recent RTÉ debate, stating he has “represented the people of Ireland all my life”.

Labour has chosen a different tact, choosing Loraine Mulligan. A Siptu researcher on social issues throughout the recession, she is also on Labour’s executive board and is its national chair. Some see her as a safe pair of hands.

Constituency reliables like the Greens Roderic O’Gorman and Sinn Féin’s Paul Donnelly are also seeking to improve on their records.

However, adding to interest is a cluster of Independents who have been gaining notable attention — and not always for the right reasons.

Independent David Hall, recently embroiled in a racism blackmail scandal, is unexpectedly in Dáil contention.

With a healthcare background — he set up a private ambulance firm — medical cards and services top his agenda.

He believes this, and his work with the Irish Mortgage Holders Association, will make May 23 “Independent day”. However, other issues could affect his vote.

The ex-Fianna Fáil member has faced criticism for his links to a casino between 2008 and 2013. Although he stressed he had only a “1% stake”, he insisted the issue has reminded him of how “dirty” political campaigns can be.

With just days to go for candidates to scrape up the last few remaining votes in an election where everyone has something to play for, you can presume it won’t get cleaner any time soon.

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