FG in pole position in Meath East as local factors likely to decide outcome
The political logic of running a relation as the candidate in the byelection is as compelling therefore in Meath East as it always is. In this instance, that logic is reinforced by the fact that his daughter, Helen, was centrally involved in his political operation on a full-time basis as his personal assistant. As well as having the advantage of being female, she is an able candidate and she shows considerable courage putting herself into the political fray, at a relatively young age, less than three months after the death of her father.
Shane McEntee’s passing and the tragic circumstances in which it occurred will form a particular context to this campaign which is likely to shape the outcome more than any precedents or national issues. Fine Gael recognises this clearly. Within hours of Helen McEntee’s selection, the party press office and several others posted a campaign video on YouTube, Introducing Helen McEntee, in which she says little of herself but speaks poignantly about the political lessons she learnt from her father.
Helen McEntee as candidate
While her selection was met with cynical comment in some media, that will matter little in Meath East where Shane McEntee’s support was strong, sympathy for his family is widespread and where even the other parties and their candidates speak with genuine affection for him as a popular and non-partisan public representative.
When it comes to the other parties Labour was always going to struggle. It has an incumbent TD but no obvious byelection contender. Labour is also falling in the national polls and, in the circumstances of this byelection, was always likely to take the brunt of electoral punishment for austerity policies. It is also clear it was blindsided by Fine Gael in the rush to announce the byelection. As of yet, Labour has not even selected a candidate. It all suggests that the Labour effort in Meath East will be perfunctory in the hope that it can thereby minimise any national political damage from it.
Sinn Féin is on a more long-term project with its new candidate, Darren O'Rourke. Meath East borders four constituencies where Sinn Féin has sitting TDs – Meath West, Cavan-Monaghan, Louth and Dublin North West – and is therefore an obvious target for a gain. O’Rourke is a policy adviser to the party’s health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.*
In what will become a bipolar Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil contest, Labour, Sinn Féin, the smaller parties and any Independents are likely to be left behind.
* This article was amended on 09/03/13 to correct a factual error