Whoever emerges as victor in tomorrow’s Dublin South West by-election, this particular poll could well be a weather vane for the shifting winds of politics, writes Michael Clifford
CARMEL Murphy has a problem with trees. She wants them cut down, for both safety and aesthetic reasons. Her namesake, Paul Murphy, is stumped. He’s not here to talk about trees.
He wants to discuss water, and the way they might charge you for it, and how to resist with people power.
Paul Murphy is running in the Dublin South West by-election for the Anti Austerity Alliance.
For him, the by-election is about water, first, last, and everything. The Triple A’s main selling point is that it offers the purest form of resistance to water charges.
This chimes with the word on the doorstep, and most particularly in the great swathes of the constituency that labour under socio-economic disadvantage. And here he is on the canvass, out in west Tallaght, and he’s confronted with trees rather than water.
“I’ve two trees I want taken down,” Carmel tells Paul. “I know the council are against it, but they’re really bothering me.” Murphy is shown the trees, and scribbles a few notes.
“If I’m elected a TD, I can’t get trees cut down, but I’ll see what I can do,” he says. And then, reeling the canvass back in, he asks: “You’re going to vote me number one because of the water changes, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am,” she replies.
The little vignette is instructive because of its rarity in this by-election. More often than not, local issues inveigle themselves into election campaigns, but on this one, the exception proves the rule that it’s all about water.
As a winter sun bore down on the Drumcarra estate, which nestles in the shadow of Dublin mountains, water flowed from each doorstep of the canvass. Everybody wants to resist, and Murphy patiently offers a way. “We must stick together,” he tells one householder. “If we stick together we can win it.”
Winning it would mean the abolition of the charge, but despite the contempt for the new dispensation, most of those who engage Murphy react on a fatalistic note.
“For now, I’m not paying them,” one man says. “We’ll vote for you, but it’s going to come in,” another bemoans.
This is no good for Murphy. The Triple A campaign is based on outright resistance. That, Murphy claims, is what distinguishes him from the Sinn Féin candidate and red-hot favourite, Cathal King.
Sinn Féin must have been spooked in recent weeks, because in the course of this campaign it changed its national policy to declare that abolishing the charge would be a pre-condition to entering government.
Last weekend, an embarrassing episode exploded when Murphy accused the Shinners of being behind a dirty tricks campaign in which a fake account purporting to be him was shared on social media, portraying him as being dishonest on the water charge issue. An apology was issued and accepted by Murphy, but tensions between the two are still high.
Whatever happens, tomorrow’s poll in the Dublin South West will see politics break new ground. If the Sinn Féin candidate wins, the party will, for the first time, hold two Dáil seats in a major upset. Sinn Féin will, in its current rise and guise, have been outflanked from the Left. One way or the other, this particular poll may well be a weather vane for the shifting winds of politics.
The most arresting feature of the by-election is the odds offered on the candidates. As of yesterday, Sinn Féin’s King is 1/8, while Murphy is 9/2. These are followed by Tony Rochford and Ronan McMahon (both independent and on 16/1).
After those come the three candidates from the established parties of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour, John Lahert, Cáit Keane, and Pamela Kearns respectively, all on 20/1.
Since the foundation of the State, have the elements of the two-and-a-half party system ever been so far adrift in the pre-poll betting?
Prior to the last general election, all disillusion was focused on Fianna Fáil, but, in places like west Dublin, the virus has spread to both the parties in government.
Much will depend on turn-out. The working class estates where both King and Murphy hope to harvest victory are notoriously lax when it comes to voting, but with the water charge issue affecting even local authority tenants, that might change in this poll.
As of now, it’s Sinn Féin’s to lose. But Murphy, who was co-opted to Joe Higgins’s MEP seat in the last term but lost it in May’s election, has some profile and a bit of a wind behind him.
Everybody else is already consigned to the status of also-rans, in a race that is really of its time.
Dublin South West candidates:
The polls will open tomorrow at 7am and close at 10pm.
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