Dublin Bay South byelection ‘wide open’, says Social Democrats

Party leaders defend approach to public health advice at launch of Durcan’s campaign

Sarah Durcan, Social Democrats candidate in Dublin Bay South launching her campaign for the byelection, outside the Dáil, flanked by party co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sarah Durcan, Social Democrats candidate in Dublin Bay South launching her campaign for the byelection, outside the Dáil, flanked by party co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Dublin Bay South byelection is “wide open”, the Social Democrats believe, warning against “deciding this election is over before it starts”.

Launching the campaign of the party’s candidate, Sarah Durcan, outside Leinster House on Wednesday, both co-leaders of the party made the pitch that voters are set to reject the idea that the contest is a run-off between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.

The byelection will take place on July 8th to decide who fills the Dáil seat vacated by former minister for housing Eoghan Murphy.

Meanwhile, Róisín Shortall denied the party had an “a la carte” approach to public health advice, after endorsing a role for antigen testing – a technology largely opposed for use at scale by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

Ms Durcan, who has a background in the arts and non-profit sector, said candidates should live in the constituency they are aiming to represent, and took a swipe at Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who were earlier this month caught up in a controversy over party members posing as pollsters in previous years.

“You don’t need fake polling to be able to go and ask people what they’re thinking about,” Ms Durcan said. “They tell us they want change and they’re fed up of the usual policies from the usual parties”.

“It’s not a battle between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, it is for the voters here in DBS to decide who will be their next representative,” she said.

Candidates from both Fine Gael and Sinn Féin live outside the Dublin Bay South constituency, while Ms Durcan lives on the western edge of the constituency, near Christchurch.

“Every area has its idiosyncrasies, so I think you do need to live in the area, and know the people to be able to represent them, that’s what politics is about, representing the area, and it is difficult if you’re not living here.”

Catherine Murphy, the co-leader of the party and TD for Kildare North, said that there was a “different urgency and a different dynamic” about the byelection. “I would caution anyone against deciding this election is over before it starts. Byelections are just different,” she said.

Asked about the role for antigen testing in the wake of fractious appearance by the chief medical officer at the Oireachtas transport committee over the use of the technology Ms Shortall, the party’s second co-leader, argued that it “had a role”.

Ms Shortall said it could not be used as a replacement for PCR testing, seen as the gold standard, but queried why Dr Tony Holohan had seemingly “set his face against them”.

“There are plenty of people with medical expertise who believe that they have a role, but not as a replacement,” she said. Ms Shortall, who has often pointed to the importance of following public health advice during the pandemic said it has a “really positive role to play in terms of screening”.

“We’ve seen the experience, the widespread use of antigen testing in the UK, where it’s been used in schools for several months now, it’s available on the street literally in parts of London, they’re encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves,” she said.

“I think that’s the right approach, and I think teaching people, explaining to people what the role of antigen testing is and how to carry it out successfully is the right way to go about it.”

Earlier today, Dr Holohan doubled down on criticism of the antigen testing technology, urging “significant caution” about using antigen testing to “green light” or “enable” the resumption of activities after lockdown, “particularly while not accounting for the prevailing epidemiological situation”.

Ms Shortall said she had not seen Dr Holohan’s comments.