Bacik wins byelection comfortably as most voters stay at home

Some Fianna Fáil TDs say party’s worst ever performance raises leadership questions

Labour's Ivana Bacik was set for victory in Dublin Bay South byelection, where Fianna Fáil polled less than 5% of first preferences. Video: Enda O'Dowd

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Labour Party candidate Ivana Bacik won a resounding victory for her party in the Dublin Bay South byelection last night in a disappointing result for Fine Gael, which also saw a dramatic collapse in the Fianna Fáil vote.

Ms Bacik, a four-term senator for Trinity College Dublin who first came to public prominence three decades ago when she campaigned for abortion rights as a student leader, topped the poll on the first count and won the seat comfortably with transfers from all sides.

Despite a high-profile campaign, most voters stayed at home, with turnout at just 35 per cent, well below general election levels.

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Ms Bacik will take the Dáil seat vacated by former minister for housing Eoghan Murphy, leaving Fine Gael without a seat in one of its traditional strongholds.

Party leader Leo Varadkar said he expected Fine Gael’s candidate, James Geoghegan, would take a seat at the next election, and denied there were any implications for his own leadership of the party. “I will be around for a little while yet,” he told reporters.

But while Fine Gael was disappointed not to retain a seat after an intensive campaign in recent weeks, Fianna Fáil was shocked to see its vote plummet to just under 5 per cent, and the result prompted a bout of soul-searching among TDs last night.

The party’s Dublin Bay South TD and director of elections, Jim O’Callaghan, acknowledged it was a very disappointing day for the party. He said the Government needs to be more radical in dealing with housing. “I don’t think Fianna Fáil understand the scale of the problem in housing yet.”

Asked about Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s future and whether Mr Martin he should lead the party into the next general election, Mr O’Callaghan said “it depends on when the general election is. We’ll have to think about it.”

Later, in Cork, when Mr Martin was asked about the remarks, he said he would continue to lead the party in Government and into the next election.

“I have made it very clear from the outset when I was elected Taoiseach what I intend to do. I do intend to lead this Government ... Getting through Covid-19 is extremely important, recovering our economy,” he said.

“Recovering jobs and prioritising housing and healthcare – these are the issues people are concerned about ... That is what people want Fianna Fáil to focus on,” Mr Martin said.

‘Tough questions’

But some Fianna Fáil TDs said last night that the party’s worst ever electoral performance has raised serious questions about Mr Martin’s future as leader.

A cross-section of party TDs – some talking on the basis of anonymity – expressed shock and disappointment at the result and said the historically low support level required immediate action.

“I do believe we need to ask the real tough questions and that includes the leadership,” said one.

Sinn Féin held its share of the vote since the last general election, but failed to make progress in moving into more affluent areas. Party leader Mary Lou McDonald said the party had received “solid and strong” support and the Government had been “found out”. She called for a general election, saying the Government was “living on borrowed time”.

The Green Party saw its share of the vote tumble, though party leader Eamon Ryan already holds a seat for the party in this constituency. Mr Ryan said it was a “really good campaign for us”, and that it was “pulling us together as a party”.

Ms Bacik’s election, confirmed just before 9.30pm on Friday night, on the ninth count, is a huge boost for Labour, which has endured a torrid decade since the general election of 2011.

Ms Bacik said she was “honoured” by the result, which she said was an endorsement of the values of “solidarity and equality” as promoted by Labour. Party leader Alan Kelly said Labour had had “10 very difficult years” but would now build on the “energy and engagement” of Ms Bacik’s campaign.

Dublin Bay South byelection

Full results and analysis