10 things you need to know about the elections
More than 2,000 candidates are competing for 949 local council seats across the State
The local and European elections are often used as a stick with which to beat the government of the day as Fianna Fáil and the Green Party learned in 2009. Will three years of austerity policies see Labour and Fine Gael face a similar fate? Photograph: Getty Images
The posters are coming down already. The local and European election races have been run. At 9am today the counting of votes was to begin at dozens of centres across the State and more than 2,000 county and city council hopefuls will begin to learn if all the canvassing, leaflet drops and campaign rhetoric has earned them one of the 949 seats on offer.
The 41 European election candidates seeking to be on the Irish team of 11 dispatched to Brussels and Strasbourg over the next five years will have to wait a little longer, with official results not announced until 10pm on Sunday night. However, we should have a good idea as to the winners and losers from tallies and exit polls before then.
The local and European elections are often used as a stick with which to beat the government of the day as Fianna Fáil and the Green Party learned in 2009. Will three years of austerity policies see Labour and Fine Gael face a similar fate?
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Can Sinn Fein, Independents and left-leaning parties reach the heights predicted in the pre-election polls? Is this a big chance for Fianna Fáil and the Greens to rebuild lost trust?
Here are 10 things to keep an eye on:
1. Sinn Féin’s big day?
If opinion polls won prizes Sinn Féin would feel like Michael Phelps on his way back from an Olympic Games. The party will undoubtedly make gains but has been careful not to seem too jubilant about projections that it could take three European seats and potentially treble its number of councillors to more than 150.
After recovering from a disappointing local election in 2009, Sinn Fein’s anti-austerity and anti-government messages appear to be resonating with voters straying from other parties frustrated over policies such as water charges and property tax.
The arrest and detention of party president Gerry Adams in connection with the Jean McConville abduction and murder investigation during the campaign prompted allegations of “political policing” but party discipline has been watertight. The matter may have raised questions for some floating voters but the development was said to have galvanised supporters.
Sinn Féin has a long-term strategy to become a significant political power, which is being implemented with great care and much planning. These elections could be an important stepping stone towards that goal.
2. We need to talk about Eamon:
When a senior candidate says during an election campaign that it’s time for her party leader to step aside, it is fair to suspect that something isn’t right. Eamon Gilmore was answering questions about the security of his position at the top of the Labour Party long before MEP Phil Prendergast’s intervention, but these elections represent the first chance for most voters to either back or abandon the party that romped to a record election performance and into coalition government back in 2011.
Subsequent victories of Patrick Nulty and Michael D Higgins as Labour candidates in the Dublin West and presidential elections respectively in 2011 seem a long time ago now. A series of tough budgets, a Meath East byelection drubbing, defections from across the party ranks and questions about Gilmore’s roving Foreign Affairs ministry leaving the party weak at home have come and gone since.
Gilmore insists he’s going nowhere, and party members have backed him and criticised the comments made by Prendergast, but will an expected return of zero MEPs be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?
Labour was on 7 per cent support in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos Mrbi poll, just half the vote of 2009 when it had 116 councillors elected. Gilmore has said the only polls that matter are those on election day. How bad do things have to get for this to be his last as party leader?
3. Reseeding the Greens:
Labour need look no further than the Green Party as a case study in difficult elections. They were hammered in the 2009 local and European polls and as good as obliterated in the 2011 general. The Greens were the junior coalition party back then but the party is currently without a representative in the Oireachtas, has no State funding and is defending less than a handful of county council seats.
Having been tarnished as one of the parties that brought us the bailout, the Greens had to go back to basics - core loyalists, long-term diehards, ideological matches and young activists have kept the thing alive.
The result of their efforts is streamlined party with 47 local election candidates, a few familiar faces but more not so, and three European election candidates, including party leader and former minister Eamon Ryan who is in with a shout in the Dublin constituency. Grace O’Sullivan has also performed well in polls in Ireland South.