MacNeill seen as Seanad byelection front runner ahead of count

Former Dublin mayor Hazel Chu also a contender to fill seat left vacant by Ivana Bacik

Former Irish rugby international Hugo MacNeill is widely seen as the front runner to win the Seanad byelection to fill the seat left vacant by Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik.

In total, 17 candidates are contesting the seat and sources in various campaigns spoke of the difficulty in predicting the outcome given the lack of opinion polls and the dispersed nature of the electorate.

Voting is limited to just under 68,000 Trinity College Dublin (TCD) graduates to fill the seat in the University of Dublin constituency vacated by Ms Bacik.

Turnout is expected to be low, with 12,467 ballots returned as of Tuesday night.


More postal ballots are expected on Wednesday morning before polls close at 11am but it is still likely to be less than the 15,053 – or 23 per cent of eligible voters – who returned ballots in the 2020 election.

Former Green Party lord mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu is believed to be in contention for the seat as is Ursula Quill who previously worked with Ms Bacik while she was a senator.

However, name recognition and a long association with TCD are viewed as being among the factors that give Mr MacNeill the edge in the contest.

The counting of votes begins at 11am on Wednesday but a final result is not expected until Thursday.

Independent candidate

Independent candidate Mr McNeill is married to Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill.

He played rugby for Leinster and Ireland during the 1980s. He spent much of his career as a banker, working with Goldman Sachs.

During his time studying at TCD he captained the rugby club and he remains a sports ambassador for the university. He is also heavily involved with an initiative at the university that encourages people with intellectual disabilities to go on to third-level education and enter the workforce.

Mr MacNeill put in a respectable showing in the 2020 Seanad election – coming fourth in the three-seat constituency.

Ms Chu is another high-profile candidate having recently served as Dublin's lord mayor during the pandemic. She ran as an independent but has confirmed she would vote with the Green Party if elected to the Seanad.

Doctoral student Ms Quill previously worked as Ms Bacik’s assistant and is seen by some as a dark horse in the contest as a result of the Labour leader’s backing.

The field includes other well-known candidates such as security analyst Tom Clonan, who got the fifth highest first-preference votes in 2020; barrister and former Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna and psychologist and writer Maureen Gaffney.


A number of campaigns, including those to elect Mr McNeill, Ms Chu and Ms Quill, conducted targeted door-to-door canvassing of eligible voters.

However, this strategy faced difficulties such as many graduates no longer living at addresses where their votes were registered.

TCD ran a hustings event earlier this month which could be viewed online.

The other candidates include: Ali O'Shea, a director at education organisation AFA Consulting; social worker and Labour party member Eoin Barry; former Irish diplomat Ray Bassett; entrepreneur Aubrey McCarthy; and PhD student Michael McDermott, whose biography says he wants to abolish the Seanad from within.

The field also includes PhD researcher Ryan Alberto Ó Giobúin; barrister Ade Oluborode; Sadhbh O'Neill, an assistant professor at the school of law and government at DCU; psychologist Paula Roseingrave; president of the trinity graduate students union Gisèle Scanlon; and Catherine Stocker, a Social Democrats councillor in Dublin.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times