Massive sigh of relief from Fianna Fáil as party triumphs this time out
Sinn Féin in the frame for general election seat after securing 16% of byelection votes
Bobby Aylward (Fianna Fáil), who won the Carlow-Kilkenny byelection, canvassing at Piltown, Co Kilkenny, during the campaign. Photograph: Patrick Browne
From the moment this byelection in Carlow-Kilkenny was announced, it was described as “Bobby Aylward’s to lose”. Fianna Fáil tried to play down how crucial the contest was for the party, but when Aylward’s victory was announced in the early hours of yesterday morning, the collective sigh of relief from the huge crowd of supporters and politicians there could have been measured on the Beaufort scale.
It was the seventh byelection to have been held since the general election in 2011 and Fianna Fáil had nothing to show for itself until now. Moreover, its performance in opinion polls has been less than stellar and that kind of inertia crept into this byelection campaign.
There were mutterings about a challenge to Micheál Martin should Fianna Fáil not win. Fianna Fáil desperately sought a morale-booster. It came in the shape of this 60-year-old farmer. He was hardly a “renewal” candidate, but he had the Aylward name, his strong farming roots in a rural constituency and an easy personable manner that made up for his lack of debating skills.
His party is strong here. Even in the nadir of 2011, it still got 28 per cent of the vote and won 39 per cent of the vote in local elections in Kilkenny last year (29 per cent in Carlow).
Coalition parties find byelections tough, unless there are special circumstances, such as a TD dying in office. Since its high water line in 2011, the tide has been going out for Fine Gael. David Fitzgerald was an energetic, focused candidate. There will be some internal debate within the party about not choosing former IFA president John Bryan, but it is doubtful if this would have made any difference.
Sinn Féin was the other relative winner. Kathleen Funchion’s 16 per cent vote share puts her in the frame for the general election.
There was a great deal of interest in how Patrick McKee of Renua Ireland would perform. It was the party’s first electoral outing and the young councillor won 9.5 per cent of the vote. It was solid, if not spectacular. There was a degree of disappointment for some in the party who thought it might have a stronger debut. There needs to be realism, though, about the limits of the party’s impact in the short term.