And so we have two bye-elections, or by-elections (both correct), on Friday next, consequent on last May's European Parliament elections. The word by(e) in by(e) election means subsidiary, which makes perfect sense as a by(e) election takes place when a position as TD becomes vacant between general elections, for whatever reason.

One, in Dublin South West, follows the success of its former Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes in becoming an MEP and that in Roscommon/ South Leitrim follows the election of former independent TD Luke Ming Flanagan as an MEP.

But what of that peculiar yet all-too-familiar word election itself? Described as the "act of choosing someone to occupy a position" or "elevation to office (whether by one person or a body of electors)" it can also mean "the holding of a vote by a body of electors" as well as "the time and place of such a vote".

It has Anglo-French origin, from the word eleccioun, itself from the Old French election. This, of course, can be traced back to the Latin electionem, from the stem eligere meaning to pick out or select.


We associate elections with democracy, of which Dubliner George Bernard Shaw once said was "a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few".

Then there is that troubling word elect. In Christianity it can mean "those chosen by God" for salvation. It is a belief particularly associated with Calvinism and holds that God chooses certain individuals for salvation regardless of their faith or works. Known as predestination, it is a doctrine that many Christians find very difficult to accept and in particular its corollary, that some are born to be damned.

Even in the world of politics that sort of belief would be given short shrift. Though, looked at objectively, it would have to be conceded that some elected representatives are destined to be forever in Opposition, the political equivalent of a region of the damned or one of Dante’s circles of hell.

Those eligible to vote in either constituency next Friday include all Irish and UK citizens over 18. Other EU citizens in each may only vote in European and local elections while non-EU citizens can vote in local elections.