Can Labour build on momentum of Ivana Bacik’s success?

Does Dublin Bay South byelection victory signal electorate have forgiven party’s past failings?

"Well, look, we'll take the good days. We've taken enough bad days," was the response of Labour leader Alan Kelly when asked if he was concerned that the party has been on 3 per cent in the polls nationally, notwithstanding the party's stunning performance in the Dublin Bay South byelection.

Senator Ivana Bacik topped the poll with just over 30 per cent of the first preference votes, which is a far cry from its standing at a national level.

She was elected just before 9.30pm on Friday to cheers from a crowd of jubilant supporters.

Earlier on Friday, Mr Kelly was asked how he could improve the party’s situation elsewhere in the country.


He didn’t go into detail, instead praising his candidate for championing unpopular issues before they became popular.

But returning to the question he says Labour will “try and replicate” the success “in constituencies across the country and face the electorate whenever that is”.

Asked if the punishment meted out to Labour by the electorate after its 2011-to-2016 stint in coalition with Fine Gael has come to an end, he said: "It's a good day one way or another for our party.

“We have had ten very difficult years electorally, so certainly I think this campaign has been something of a change for us.”

The party’s director of elections in Dublin Bay South, Duncan Smith, said the byelection saw the party increase its vote in working-class areas.

He said he has noticed a pattern where the “toxicity” it has experienced due to its association with what opponents have branded as austerity years in Government has “diminished”.

“With each passing election we’re getting further away from that time, which has in many ways dogged us. But we’ve kept going, we’ve stayed true to ourselves. We’re putting forward good candidates,” he said.

“We feel that if we continue to do that, we can push on and come back up the polls and increase our numbers in the Dáil and the Seanad and across the councils.”

‘Exceptional candidate’

Mr Smith said the party had an "exceptional candidate" in Senator Bacik and Mr Kelly outlined how canvassers talk about her " in the same way we talk about Michael D or Mary Robinson. She's up there on that pedestal".

Ms Bacik said she was surprised that she had topped the poll and was “overwhelmed and over the moon” after a “positive and respectful” campaign which focused on social justice, eldercare and childcare, public services and climate justice.

She said Labour values of equality and solidarity had “clearly resonated”.

Ms Bacik also said: “I’m so grateful that message has been heard and that so many people have shown us the need to ensure a balanced representation in the constituency, to have a strong progressive woman’s voice to represent this constituency.”

Dublin Bay South was left without a single female TD after the last general election, but Labour’s disastrous election also left it with a Dáil team of six, who were all men.

Mr Smith admitted it was “absolutely” a relief to have a woman TD among Labour’s ranks in the Dáil again.

Deliver on national stage

He added that Ms Bacik “is someone who will not come to the Dáil to make up the numbers.“She will be delivering on the national stage.

“This is a good day for women in Irish politics, not just for the Labour Party, and that should be celebrated.”

Ms Bacik's success has been a long time coming amid her high profile campaigning on issues like marriage equality and repeal the 8th, as well as four terms as a Trinity College Dublin Senator.

She has won a Dáil seat where her record was well known and where the party has traditionally held a seat.

There is no doubt that her election has provided a massive morale boost for Labour after it’s time in the doldrums over the last five years.

She was the right candidate, in the right constituency, at the right time for the party to get a renewed taste of electoral success.

However, extending that success elsewhere in the capital – where Sinn Féin has eaten Labour’s lunch in recent years – not to mention to rural constituencies at the next election, will not be easy.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times