Canvassing with Ivana Bacik: ‘She’s been a wonderful worker really’

Labour candidate is in what seems to be two-horse race in Dublin Bay South

"Keep going. There's two number ones here," says a woman to Senator Ivana Bacik as she zips around Milltown seeking Dublin Bay South byelection votes.

The woman's words of encouragement come after she tells the Labour candidate she has traditionally been a Fine Gael supporter.

Ms Bacik is in what has become a two-horse race with Fine Gael candidate Cllr James Geoghegan to replace a former Fine Gael minister Eoghan Murphy, in what is regarded as one of the country's most Fine Gael constituencies.

Mr Geoghegan is in the lead on 27 per cent, according to the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll last Tuesday, but Ms Bacik is not far behind on 22 per cent and believes she has momentum.


Another woman more used to backing Fine Gael mentions former TD Kate O’Connell - who is not running - and tells Ms Bacik: “You could easily get my number one vote.”

Ms O’Connell announced last month she would not seek her party’s nomination as it was clear she was “not the desired candidate” of the leadership, adding there were some in the constituency who presented her as a rural blow-in.

“I’ve worked very closely with Kate on the Repeal campaign…I think Kate has been a loss to the legislature,” says Ms Bacik of Ms O’Connell.

Ms O’Connell losing her seat in last year’s General Election left Dublin Bay South with an all male line-up, a situation Ms Bacik is not shy about highlighting. One householder tells her “I’ll definitely be giving you a vote”, but does not say what preference.

She points out there are many women running and Ms Bacik replies: “I know, but I’m the only one it seems who could have the chance at the moment, according to the polls”. She asks for a “number one if you can at all”.

The woman is non-committal saying “well we’ll see. It will definitely be a woman anyway”.

Sinn Féin's high profile candidate Senator Lynn Boylan was on 13 per cent in the recent poll - a showing suggesting the byelection was not the Fine Gael-Sinn Féin battle royale it was initially portrayed as.

Ms Bacik says she was encouraged by the poll, adding it “merely reflected what we’ve been hearing on doors which is a huge momentum and a lot of support for me, my track record, and my career in activism in local and national issues”.

Former local Labour TD Kevin Humphreys joined her on Thursday's canvas and was even more upbeat, saying she has "an excellent chance of winning", while predicting it will be "very tight" and could come down to between 200 and 500 votes. This weekend will be "critical" as undecideds make up their minds.

Ms Bacik says: “We have consistently said that the narrative that both Fine Gael and Sinn Féin were pushing that this was a two-horse race between the two of them - that that wasn’t representative of the real mood on the ground.”

“It’s disrespectful of voters because it actually doesn’t reflect what people’s concerns are.”

Voters want everyday issues in their lives addressed “and they want to send a message to Government on particularly housing but also childcare, elder care, community facilities and climate justice as well”.

She agrees with the commentary that housing is the biggest issue in this campaign, saying 44 per cent of households are in private rental accommodation and tenants need more protection, while her party’s position is that state investment in building homes is “badly needed”.

Encountering a former teacher of hers, she almost forgets Covid social distancing to go in for a hug but Mr Humphreys shouts “elbows” just in time.

Síle Sheehy taught Ms Bacik Irish and economics and says she has been encouraging neighbours to support her former student.

She insists she would be supporting Ms Bacik even if she had not taught her in the 80s, saying: “When you think of what she’s done in public life, I mean she’s been a wonderful worker really.” She also says: “I’d normally vote Fianna Fáil”.

Ms Bacik, a four-term Senator elected by University of Dublin voters, lives in the constituency. Next Thursday's byelection will be her third attempt at election to the Dáil - having contested the 2009 byelection in Dublin Central and the 2011 General in Dun Laoghaire.

She decided 10 years ago if she was to make another Dáil bid she would only run in her home constituency, she says. “This is my first opportunity... So I’m really delighted to have the chance.” It may also be the best chance she will ever have of finally winning a Dáil seat.