The Irish Times view on the Dublin Bay South byelection: Ivana Bacik triumphs

A remarkable victory has given the Labour Party a badly-needed morale boost

Winning over 30 per cent of the vote was an astonishing achievement for Labour’s Ivana Bacik. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Winning over 30 per cent of the vote was an astonishing achievement for Labour’s Ivana Bacik. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The outcome of the Dublin Bay South byelection represents a stunning triumph for Labour Party candidate Ivana Bacik. Not only did she win the seat but by topping the poll she turned conventional political wisdom on its head and gave her party a long overdue morale boost. Winning over 30 per cent of the vote was an astonishing achievement for Bacik, given that her party has been stuck on about 5 per cent of the vote for some time in most national polls.

As a formidable activist and public intellectual, the result is a fitting personal victory for Bacik. But it is also an important moment for Labour, which has frequently been written off since the election disaster of 2016.

While Labour is entitled to celebrate the victory, it needs to get over the euphoria quickly and ask some serious questions about how Bacik was able to perform so much better than anybody in the party dared to hope at the start of the campaign. Her ability to harness the mood of the moment and win votes from far outside her party’s support base shows that there is a big constituency for her brand of liberal social-democratic politics. Winning that level of support at national level will require Labour to articulate a coherent vision of where it sees this country going in the years ahead.

On a practical level, Bacik’s victory brings the party’s strength in the Dáil up to seven, one ahead of rival Social Democrats who have been threatening to take over Labour’s place on the political spectrum. Sinn Féin’s vote was solid but marginally down on the general election which may signal that there is a ceiling to its potential support, although Dublin Bay South is hardly one of its strongholds.

For the three Coalition parties there was nothing to cheer about and some serious soul searching is required. Finishing in second place was a poor result for Fine Gael candidate James Geoghegan. While he fought an energetic campaign with strong support from his party organisation, he was simply the wrong byelection candidate.

The party’s antipathy towards former TD Kate O’Connell hurt Fine Gael and may have contributed to the surge to Bacik from women voters. O’Connell had been a thorn in the side of the party leadership and was not popular with her local organisation but Leo Varadkar has to take responsibility for not ensuring the candidate more likely to win was in the field.

If the outcome was poor for Fine Gael, it was a disaster for Fianna Fáil and raises questions about whether the party can ever recover in Dublin. The result was damaging for both Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his leadership rival Jim O’Callaghan, who was director of elections. It was also a bad day for the Greens who haemorrhaged support to Bacik. The Government parties will greet the summer recess with relief.

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