Terrible Beauty, date of birth 5 June 2009?
Deaglán de Bréadún
Byelection, by-election or bye-election? Whatever way you spell it, the fact is that the constituencies of Dublin Central and Dublin South will go to the polls after all to select new TDs on June 5th, in succession to the late Seamus Brennan and Tony Gregory.
Jack Lynch (1917-99): two by-election defeats put paid to his leadership
The final decision was not well-handled, coming as it did with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny announcing his intention to move the writ in the Dáil. For a while it looked as if the Government was going to leave it over until the autumn and maybe have the two votes the same day as the next Lisbon referendum.
There was a case for that. It will be bad enough for Fianna Fáil if they get hammered in the local and European elections on June 5th but to lose two by-elections (I am hyphen-friendly) on the same day would, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, look like carelessness about your political future.
A double by-election defeat in his native Cork, some months after a poor performance in the European Parliament race, along with an internal party controversy about British overflights on the Border, were what brought down Jack Lynch as FF leader.
But perhaps we shouldn’t assume FF is going to lose both of them. Dublin South has almost certainly “gone south” which is no reflection on the calibre of any likely FF candidate. These middle-class constituencies can be pretty vengeful. Labour have a good chance with Senator Alex White but rumour has it that FG are going to spring a high-powered economic analyst upon us whom they confidently expect to take the seat. I assume it’s not one of the many economists who failed to foresee the recession!
In Dublin Central, FG Senator Paschal Donohoe is working night and day and has built up a strong profile locally and nationally (the latter through his chairmanship of the Lisbon Subcommittee). Bertie Ahern’s brother Maurice, a member of the City Council, keeps featuring in dispatches as the FF hopeful. Can the “Bert” swing it for the “Brud”? The names of Councillors Mary Fitzpatrick and Tom Stafford are also being mentioned. It doesn’t look like Mary Lou McDonald will run for Sinn Féin.
FF are talking themselves down with regard to the European vote in Dublin. Now that Lord Mayor Eibhlín Byrne is running alongside Eoin Ryan, there should be enough transfers to see the incumbent safely home again. There is even talk of Brian Crowley possibly losing out in Munster (okay, Ireland South if you must). Can’t see it myself, but then it is never any harm to have it said that you are “in trouble”. It’s a good way of getting the core vote out. Ned O’Keeffe will certainly add colour to the campaign there. Labour’s Senator Alan Kelly has been on the ground for a long time now. Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly should take a seat and maybe bring Colm Burke in with him, on a good day. Independent MEP Kathy Sinnott will be under pressure, though she is a formidable campaigner.
The retirement of Avril Doyle will make it harder for FG to retain two seats in Leinster/East but it can’t be ruled out that Senator John Paul Phelan will join Mairéad McGuinness in Strasbourg. Word is that FF’s Liam Aylward is “in trouble”. That should energise his machine. Labour’s Nessa Childers must be in with “a shout”.
Ireland North-West/Connacht-Ulster is wide open. The surprise decision of Seán Ó Neachtain leaves Paschal Mooney as the only FF standard-bearer at present and his appeal may be somewhat localised, since his base is in Lovely Leitrim. FF needs someone in Galway/Mayo or Donegal, the bigger population centres. Soccer legend Packie Bonner would have been ideal but it was not to be. Jim Higgins of Fine Gael should be safe. Independent MEP Marian Harkin is taking on Declan Ganley and there is charge and counter-charge over abortion and euthanasia – big issues in the traditionalist West. Sinn Féin’s Pádraig MacLochlainn is seen as a strong candidate (“Not like a Shinner at all,” said one admirer). Very hard to call this one.
Because of the proliferation of multi-seat electoral areas, the local election results may not be quite as bad for FF as some are predicting. But there is the incalculable factor of the public mood, which is definitely hostile at the moment. All could be changed, changed utterly and a Terrible Beauty could be born on June 5th. (Thanks again, Misther Yeats.)