Dublin Bay South: Fine Gael candidate canvasses in satisfied suburbs

With low turnout expected, FG knows it is vital to get their supporters to actually vote

Housing was the key issue on the doorsteps as the candidates entered the final week of the Dublin Bay South byelection. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

Just to the east of Cowper Luas stop in Ranelagh, James Geoghegan and a skein of Fine Gael canvassers pan out through the streets with the speed and coordination of Canadian geese.

It’s a mature neighbourhood with attractive houses and thought-out gardens in Dublin Bay South – the “satisfied suburbs”, the districts where Fine Gael should do well.

Helen Routledge knew former generation of Fine Gael royalty, the family of former Fine Gael taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, while Dr Garret FitzGerald lived a few streets away.

Her husband, Richard, who believes Fine Gael should do well, cautions: “A lot of people will not get out to vote, won’t bother. He [Geoghegan] is better-off if only the core vote went out.”

It’s an astute observation. Fine Gael is haunted by the experience of the byelection in Dublin MidWest in 2019 when it was beaten into second place by Sinn Féin.

With low turnouts, parties must get their own core to vote. Fine Gael failed to do so two years ago. This time, it is determined the same mistake will not be made.

When journalists go canvassing with candidates, it is inevitable they will be shown the best grazing territory. This part of residential Ranelagh is to Fine Gael what Kilgarvan is to the Healy-Raes.

Hovering on the pavement

On sun-speckled streets, the canvassers knock on five doors at a time. The candidate holds back, hovering on the pavement. If someone answers, he quickly flits into the garden.

There is a sense of urgency to it all. James Geoghegan grew up locally and is a local councillor and a father of two. In shirt-sleeves, he alternates between speed-walk and half-trot throughout the canvass.

In conversation, by contrast, his manner is laid-back and polite: “I checked on my stepometer. I am doing 10km every day. We had 100 people out [canvassing] on Saturday.”

Every night, Fine Gael has five canvass teams out in different parts of the constituency, morning and evening. Nothing is being left to chance, either by him or by Fine Gael.

To be fair, a lot of householders say straight out they are Fine Gael. “You are a shoo-in,” one woman informs him. Her husband says his “campaign is brilliant. You have fantastic energy.”

These suburbs may be satisfied, but not wholly so . A woman berates the Government for not being nimble on the Delta variant, before taking a cut at the party’s treatment of former TD Kate O’Connell.

‘Generational divide’

There are signs, too, of support for Labour’s candidate, Ivana Bacik, and the Greens. Even strong Fine Gael supporters have issues, mostly about housing and “generational divide”.

Marion Bruton, a Fine Gael supporter, sums up the feelings: “There is some disgruntlement. My two boys will never be able to buy a house in Ranelagh, never. They can’t afford to rent.

Unfailingly respectful and polite, Geoghegan spends time with voters if they want to talk. But he has taken a few knocks in the campaign – his links with the conservative-leaning Renua party, for instance.

Then, there are the difficulties left by the party’s decision to opt for Geoghegan as the candidate and not for O’Connell, a decision she bitterly resented.

There are snapshots on social media of O’Connell in her pharmacy with every candidate except Geoghegan. When asked if it is damaging, he does not rise to the bait. Instead, he downplays the divisions.

“She was a strong TD. In a general election on the assumption that she would put herself forward, there would be a very good chance that the two of us would be looking for Fine Gael seats.”

Housing is a big issue here. He argues that the former Irish Glass Bottle Company lands in Poolbeg will help meet the need, offering 600 affordable homes, (priced, he hopes) at €300,000.

A week out from polling day, he says there is momentum behind him. The Irish Times poll put him five points clear of Bacik. If he is to retain the seat for Fine Gael, he cannot allow her to get any closer.

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