There’s a fierce amount of reflection going on again
What we’ve learned about the political landscape after Meath East and recent opinion polls
Have you noticed how politicians and pundits love to do a bit of reflection on occasions like these? In the wake of the Meath East byelection and another round of opinion polls, the political classes have decided to do some reflection about the results and what this says about the state of the nation. When I hear men in pin-striped suits going on about reflection, I have images of Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams reclining on sofas, closing their eyes and wondering what it all means. It’s just me, isn’t it?
There were a couple of takeaways from Helen McEntee’s win in Navan on Friday. McEntee’s own victory in winning the seat previously held by her late father has been chalked down largely to a sympathy vote, but those on the ground will also point to the successful candidate’s own hard work and also a feeling by many voters that Fine Gael are doing a decent job in difficult circumstances. That said, there is only so long that Fine Gael can keep up the “it was a mess when we got here” mantra and they won’t get away with that in the next general election.
The resurgence in Fianna Fail’s fortunes are also due to an impressive workrate by their candidate Thomas Byrne as well as the Irish electorate’s fondness for changing their mind within two years about a party they had as good as disowned in 2011. We, the voters, are strange people, though anyone who thought Fianna Fail were dead and buried after ’11 doesn’t really know how the Irish electorate thinks or works. They’re back, baby. But they never really went away.
Labour’s implosion in last week’s joust has already produced much ink. Fintan O’Toole’s piece yesterday highlighed once again how the party has been on the road to rack and ruin since they went into power just over two years ago. The smell of power was too much for the high rolling grey-hairs in the party and they went for it, knowing full well that they would get the blame on the doorsteps in due course.
Eoin Holmes, Labour’s would-be in Meath East and someone this writer knows from the candidate’s previous life in the music business, won’t be the first soldier to go home after election day with egg on his face despite likability and hard work. Meanwhile, various Labour Party activists and sympathisers like Fergus Finlay, Dermot Ryan and Conor Ryan have been at their typewriters with advice and pointers for the beleagured party. More for the reflection clinics methinks.
The other winner from Meath East and an indicator about what’s ahead was the strong showing for Ben Gilroy from newbies Direct Democracy Ireland. The Labour Party weren’t the only ones to get a lash from the electorate in this regard and Gilroy’s strong showing, plus the ongoing high preference for independent candidates in the regular opinion polls, means we’ll see a huge return for indies and non-major party men and women in next year’s local elections and beyond. Yes, county councils and future Dail chambers will be full of non-alligned reps and everyone will live happily after.
The problem given the mood of the Irish voters and the availability of electable talent, though, is that this is likely to mean more Ming Flanagans and Mick Wallaces than Stephen Donnellys. As we’ve seen from recent events, successful independents and one-issue candidates are likely to be as useless, compromised, two-faced, corrupt and clueless as any of the party apparatchik they are replacing. Maybe that’s what we like in our political representatives and why we have a sneaking regard for this kind of carry-on as seen in what comes tumbling out of the ballot boxes the day after any election?
The other interesting takeaway from last week’s byelection was Sinn Fein’s performance. They did alright, coming in third and had just over 12 per cent of the vote. But given the party’s ambitions, the strong campaign by their candidate Darren O’Rourke and the party’s overall profile in opposition, that wasn’t quite the result they would have been expecting in Parnell Square.
It may be that SF’s plans for growth will be thwarted by both the resurgence of Fianna Fail and the electorate’s growing preference for independent candidates. The party will definitely add a couple of seats next time out, but Meath East shows that might be much harder to do than anticipated. Still, looking at the current landscape and extrapolating some notions for the next general election, anyone willing to beat against a Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein coalition at this stage of the proceedings?