Sinn Féin on course to be big winner in elections

A failure to manage the Garda crisis has resulted in coalition being on the back foot

Anybody who witnessed the first TV3 debate on the European elections with Midland North West candidates last night would know first-hand how chaos theory might work out in practice.

Vincent Browne did his best but the measure of the most successful debaters last night was those who shouted loudest won.

It was like the scene in Spinal Tap where a special amplifier boosted the volume up to 11.

There’s been a lot of chaos doing the rounds for the past few weeks.


It has affected Government where a continuing failure to manage the crisis afflicting the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice has resulted in the Coalition parties being back-footed in the run up to local and European elections.

It’s become a bit messy.

A senior Government minister has resigned.

Another Minister, Pat Rabbitte, talked about a sense of drift since the departure of the Troika and his party, Labour, have argued for a "renewal of purpose".

But the immediate priority for all parties and none is the local and European elections on Friday week, as well as two Dáil byelections.

The paradox is that despite the sense of a backlash against the Government, Fine Gael might emerge as a big winner in the European elections and the two byelections and despite its whipping boy status for the past three years, Labour could actually salvage one seat in the European Parliament election.

But big winner undoubtedly is going to be Sinn Féin.

The party has fielded a candidate in Dublin, Lynn Boylan, who few people had ever heard of before, with absolutely no track record as a public representative, and with a ropey knowledge of European institutions.

Nobody knows if she’ll be a good MEP (she could very well be) or if she’ll tank or fade back into anonymity.

Notwithstanding all that, she will cruise home in second place in Dublin to Fine Gael's Brian Hayes.

And given the superficial nature of mid-term election campaigns nobody is really going to truly test if she is up to the task or not.

Sinn Fein’s brand is strong but it was still a gamble to run unknowns like Boylan and Liadh Ní Riada.

Unsurprisingly, the image of its popular deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald has become a proxy for the candidates in Dublin and South.

Other parties might complain about cynicism but they, and particularly Fine Gael, have been adept in the past at selecting ‘celebrity candidates’ with no electoral record to talk of.

Fine Gael's latest reincarnation of George Lee is Eamon Coghlan, a much-decorated and revered athlete who was one of the Taoiseach's nominees to the Seanad.

Selected as its candidate in Dublin West Coghlan has a real chance despite not being a natural politician.

His record in the upper house is hardly of the Edmund Burke variety (his main concerns in the few speeches he has given is health, obesity and fitness).

But his cache and place in the national affection makes him a kind of neutral figure, somehow removed from the political humdrum.

And so he's in with a strong chance of winning there, with the main threat coming from the Socialist Party's Ruth Coppinger.

David Hall will certainly make an impact (it's very hard to predict how much at this stage) and Fianna Fáil's David McGuinness will also perform well, but is now being ranked as an outsider. Equally in Longford-Westmeath, Gabrielle McFadden should win the seat left vacant by her late sister Nicky.

There is no doubt that Sinn Fein is about to experience its high-water mark in terms of southern electoral contests. It looks like returning three MEPs, will triple its number of local authority seats, And the big losers might not be Labour but Fianna Fáil which might end up with a mediocre result in the European elections and nothing to show in the byelections.

In the locals, it should hold its own though.

For Fianna Fáil the name of the game in both byelections will be staying ahead of Sinn Féin.

The latter party has a small presence historically in both but this time around it could score a big advance and it might even edge out Fianna Fáil in one of these contests.

In the European elections, the picture might not be all dismal for Labour.

Emer Costello does have a fighting chance of retaining the Dublin seat, especially if she can stay ahead of the candidates who Labour voters might migrate to: Nessa Childers and Eamon Ryan.

Fianna Fáil’s big trouble here is attracting transfers. It’s a problem too for Sinn Féin, but if Boylan does as well as polls are suggesting it might not be a huge issue for her.

Fianna Fáil might have a problem too in the North West where it is running two strong candidates. There was always the danger that this strategy could result in both cancelling each other out - votes always leak when candidates are transferring. Independents in the old North West constituency won almost 40 per cent of the vote here in 2009 and there is an outside possibility that both Marian Harkin and Luke Ming Flanagan will be elected. In that scenario, the loser could very well be Fianna Fáil.

And all that could reflect back on party leader Micheál Martin.

Still, there are nine days left and a number of public debates on both radio and TV, as well as continuing profiles and analysis in news organisations such as The Irish Times.

A cliché is called for: it’s all still to play for.