Dublin West: Jack Chambers (Fianna Fail) (19 Days To Election)

Dublin West’s Fianna Fail TD going up for re-election in under three weeks is Jack Chambers. Chambers comes from a family associated with the late Brian Lenihan Jr and re-opened his constituency office in 2014. He topped the poll in the Castleknock local elections the same year, briefly serving as Deputy Mayor of Fingal before being elected to the Dail in 2016, taking the third of four seats in the constituency. He was appointed Fianna Fail’s spokesperson for Defence in 2018.

OK. I am going to try, very hard, to not be too flippantly dismissive of Jack Chambers in terms of him being a candidate looking for my vote, but there are two reasons why I could never vote for him. One, he’s a Fianna Fail candidate. Two, he’s Jack Chambers.

Being under the age of 30, it is fair to say that the kind of titles thrown Chambers’ away are predictable: “one to watch”, “rising star”, future minister”, etc. For a party obsessed, post 2011, with presenting themselves as political entity renewed, he’s manna from heaven, a young, successful Fianna Failer, elected in a capital city that swung so decisively away from the “Warriors of Destiny”.

Chambers hasn’t made too many waves in the 32nd Dail, something that first-termers, and especially young first-termers, tend not to do anyway. He’s known mostly for two things, the first being his opposition to the repeal of the 8th amendment, and the second being Fianna Fail’s mouthpiece on Defence. The first is evidence of his lack of suitability to be anywhere near the top of my preferences, for obvious reasons. The second is one of the easiest jobs in politics: complain about lack of numbers, wage cuts and ask the same questions over and over again. Its the perfect job for someone you want to keep onside, without putting them in the spotlight too much.

Despite his youth, despite any pretence at being at the forefront of “#ffrenewal”, despite Fianna Fail’s fawning efforts to appear changed, Chambers is a candidate from thirty years ago that has managed to piggyback on the Lenihan core in Dublin West. It’s sad and I don’t like it, but there it is. He’s the kind of guy I can envision becoming a leading light in the party, especially as a figurehead for its more conservative wing. A Minister of State job is definitely in the offing when the election is over, and maybe something more than that.

Oh, Fianna Fail, Fianna Fail, Fianna Fail. In 2011, when my father, among many others, confidently predicted, and with no small bit of satisfaction, that it would be a decade before Fianna Fail would be back in power, it seemed like a very long ways away. And yet, here we are, not even ten years removed from the biggest disgrace of a government in the history of the Irish state, and the people responsible are probably going to be forming a government inside the next two months.

How did this happen? Because Michael Martin has done a good job, politically speaking, at leading the recalcitrant party back to popularity, because parties in opposition will always pick up support at the expense of the government and because there will always be a huge number of people who will give #1’s to Fianna Fail without question, and will do so until the day they die. Despite the damage they did, despite the hypocrisy of making hay out of economic policy’s they began, despite being, at the core, the same party that led the country into oblivion ten years ago, they simply will never die off. They have spent the last eight/nine years sitting in the opposition chairs, criticising the government and yet also propping them up: a grotesque and unbelievable situation, if it wasn’t actually happening, and happening successfully.

Sound harsh? Not to a great many people. The ones who emigrated, the ones who lost their jobs, the ones who lost their homes. Fianna Fail are still the central culprit, and I still do not feel that the party has earned any redemption or forgiveness. Jack Chambers, a candidate who embodies conservative values contrary to the demonstrated wishes of the majority of the Irish people, may not have culpability the same as Michael Martin, but he is culpable all the same, by blindly aiding in the restoration of a party that, my father’s prediction be damned, needs another ten years in the wilderness.

As for what I think is going to happen with Jack Chambers come February 8th? Well, he’ll more than likely be re-elected. Fianna Fail’s numbers haven’t gone down in three years, and there is no running mate to complicate matters (Fianna Fail hasn’t pulled that off here since 1997). Unless a candidate like O’Gorman siphons off far more votes than expected from him, Chambers will be comfortable. Whether there is justice in that is another question entirely.

A victory for Chambers is to retain the seat, defeat would be to lose it. On a very good day, he may even top the poll. I have a feeling we will be putting up with him for a while yet.

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Rent Freeze (20 Days To Election)

I, like so many people, am a renter, and have been since I left home. Like many of those people, I have aspirations of home ownership, and continue to pursue options towards that end. But for the moment, I am lodged firmly in the rental market. And the rental market sucks.

Rents have been out of control in this country, and for far too long. The prices being asked for by landlords, in general, are outrageous, and things simply aren’t getting any better. In line with the cost of homes – also outrageously high – it has produced a situation where too much of peoples income is going into the simple need for a roof over their heads.

Government efforts to combat this problem – if members of the government, many of them landlords themselves, even think it is a problem – have been lacking. Rent-pressure zones were a good idea in theory, but were always full of holes as a solution, with plenty of avenues for landlords to increase rents anyway, and including an ineffective and difficult system for renters to seek redress.

What is the solution? More homes? Sure. More help for first-time-buyers? Yes. Increases to rent allowance, and laws to stop landlords from discriminating against the same? Absolutely. These are all things that we should be doing. But there is one more thing.

And that thing is recognise the renting crisis for what it is – a financial emergency for a huge portion of the population – and to step in decisively, legislatively. The solution, temporary as it should be, is for the Dail to pass laws that will legally bar landlords from raising rents any further. It’s that simple. Three years or more where landlords who attempt to raise rents are not just brought before some board connected to RPZ’s, are not able to hide behind threats of solicitors and eviction, but are in breach of the law, period, and can be reported as such.

Rent freezes have consequences, as have been widely reported with Berlin’s implementation of them. The reports are of reduced business for trades, reduced investment in property. And frankly I don’t care. Rent freezes are a radical but workable solution to a problem that is crippling the lives of people, that the government does not seem inclined to address. I’m not advocating a permanent freeze, landlords that refuse to carry out needed repairs on their properties should be legally obligated do so and maybe we should be more concerned with lowering house prices than jacking up “investment” in a market that has only seen prices increase for years.

Where do the parties stand on rent freezes? Below is a brief summation of their respective positions, with updated nods to their manifestos as they are published in this current campaign.

Fine Gael are plainly against rent freezes. Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy declared Sinn Fein’s efforts to implement one last month as “reckless” and “unconstitutional” (it wouldn’t, for the record). The common party line on the issue has been that the solution to the problem is RPZ’s and increased construction. That none of this is mutually exclusive appears to not be a consideration.

Fianna Fail, as they tend to be, are happy to take both positions. They backed Sinn Fein’s rent freeze bill in December that has reached committee stage, but it was not a support that seemed very gung-ho: their housing spokesperson, Darragh O’Brien, publicly stated that the party are “not wedded” to the idea of a rent freeze. They may simply have voted for the law to advance as a thumb to the eye of Fine Gael, who were obligated to let it through the first and second stage unopposed. I would have no faith that a Fianna Fail-led government or minority government would aim to advance such plans.

One in three of current FG/FF TD’s is a landlord by the way. The ratio is 1 in 25 nationally.

Sinn Fein, on the other hand, are openly and plainly for a rent freeze. It is their law that is going through the slow route of the Oireachtas legislative system, and they have had a consistent position on it. Sinn Fein’s opposition to the building of housing at a local level is something that should be considered in the same breath, but the party’s position is the party’s position.

Labour supported the December bill and, through Jan O’Sullivan, has expressed support for rent freezes generally, with the condition that work be done to prevent landlords increasing rent prices ahead of one. Of course, the question can be asked why they didn’t do more three years ago, messing around with the lame-duck RPZ idea when a better solution was needed.

Solidarity-PBP naturally supports rent freezes, and they would probably go even further given the chance. Their opinions shine a light on the government policy to sell off public land to private investors who are otherwise dangerously unregulated in what they provide. Similarly Independents4Change supports rent freezes, insofar as Joan Collins voted in favour of them back in December.

The Social Democrats support a rent freeze, voted in favour in December, and have been unequivocal elsewhere. Indeed, this kind of social protection measure is really right up their alley, so I shouldn’t be too surprised. One wonders though, given their apparent haste to be part of a government, if they will stick to their stated principals.

The Greens voted for the December bill, but do not appear to have stated support for the concept of a rent freeze going by the housing policy they released in 2018 and their preferred model of “cost rental”. There is merit to a lot of their plans, but I do believe it falls short, and is one of a myriad of ways that the Irish Green Party betray leanings that would seem to be surprisingly pro-capitalism for a seemingly pro-environment group.

Aontu’s sole representative in the Dail, Peadar Toibin, voted in favour of the December bill, albeit he didn’t seem to be too fussed about it: his speech on the debate was a brief affair where he talked almost exclusively about vulture funds.

In essence, it would appear that every opposition group supports the idea of a rent freeze, even if the largest opposition party should not be able to engender any trust that they will follow through. Does this mean that a rent freeze is inevitable? Sadly no. The two most likely results of the coming election are for a continuation of the current government or the same with Fianna Fail in the hotseat: in either scenario, it seems likely that the rent freeze bill will get lost in committee until being summarily voted down by a suddenly constitutionally pragmatic Fianna Fail and uncaring Fine Gael.

The crisis is going to rumble on I fear. But at least in this election a message can be sent, and that is through a rejection of the party’s that continue to trust the unreliable whims of “the market” to solve their problems for them.

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Dublin West: Joan Burton (Labour) (21 Days To Election)

It is fair to say that Labour would probably rather forget their time in the 32nd Dail, when the badly reduced party was relegated to “Also there” status. The person that led them into the electoral maw last time remains the party’s Dublin West candidate, even if her time as a headliner appears to have conclusively ended.

Joan Burton is a sitting Labour TD, and the party’s spokesperson on Finance, Public Expenditure, Reform and the Arts. First contesting a Dail seat in 1989, she was elected to local council in 1991 and then to the national legislature in 1992, becoming a Minister of State for Social Welfare in the Fianna Fail/Labour coalition, and later for Foreign Affairs under the Rainbow Coalition. She lost her seat in 1997, got elected back to the council in 1999, and returned to the Dail in 2002. She topped the poll in 2007 and became Deputy Leader of the party, before becoming the Minister for Social Protection in the Fine Gael/Labour coalition in 2011. In 2014 she became the first women to lead the Labour Party and Tanaiste. Clinging on to her seat in 2016, she resigned the leadership of the party once a government was formed.

Joan Burton is lucky to be here at all. It is extraordinary to think on it, but there is an alternate universe where Labour refused to go into government in 2011, became the biggest party within five years, and propelled Burton into being the nation’s first female Taoiseach. Instead, the defining image of her political career may be that incredibly awkward moment when Enda Kenny left her standing on her own as he drove off having just called an end to the 31st Dail.

Part and parcel of Labour’s less than stellar record as Fine Gael’s minority partner, she was widely tipped to lose her seat in 2016, but somehow managed to upset the odds, with the party diverting an excess of funds to her Dublin campaign, and Leo Varadkar informally encouraging his supporters to give her preferences, two things that allowed her to stay a few hundred votes ahead of Sinn Fein’s Paul Donnelly. But it is fair to say that, along with everyone else in Labour, she has been a diminished figure in the Dail since. She may in time come to inhabit a sort of elder stateswoman role as Michael Noonan sort-of did for Fine Gael in similar circumstances, but for now 2016 is too close, and the party have others to look to, and the fallout from the Jobstown trial continues to reverberate a bit.

This is not to say that Burton is a total waste of space in the Dail. She’s been there for the better part of quarter of a century, and she has spearheaded plenty of initiatives in that time. Her advocacy for female politicians is to be welcomed, and, as unpopular an opinion as it may be in some circles, I still feel that the Jobstown protest crossed lines. But I also think that she is part of a generation of Labour politicians that will need to quietly disappear before the party actually gets to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the Irish public, who will not so easily forgive five years of broken promises and “It would be worse if we weren’t here” excuse making.

To that end, it is difficult to analyse what she is promising to deliver and what she is criticising without immediately thinking “But why didn’t you do something about this when you had the chance?”. Increase the minimum wage to the 60% median? Great idea, why didn’t you do it? Require employers to engage with unions/facilitate collective bargaining? Great idea, why didn’t you do it? Creating new sustainable jobs in clean energy and eco-tourism? Great idea, why didn’t you do it?

Speaking purely on an electoral level, Burton has been mostly very solid since 2002. In three straight elections she increased her vote share, with the apogee being her poll-topping show in 2011, when she bested the current Taoiseach (and that was with a running-mate also in the race, the now ex-TD Patrick Nulty). As stated, her numbers dropped by a third in 2016, but she had enough to retain her seat.

But what about 2019? Well, it is reasonable to think that if she was able to ride out the storm three years ago then she should be able to be re-elected now, as the general opinion of Labour slowly goes back on the uptick. Nearly every local constituency returned a Labour councillor last year, which bodes well.

But there is the rise of the Greens to consider, a party that has been adept at siphoning off votes from the centre and left over the last 12 months. Roderic O’Gorman is going to take some of Burton’s votes. Ruth Coppinger’s election to the constituency in 2014 has also muddied the water a bit, providing an additional outlet for the left-leaning voter who may otherwise balk at the suggestion they would be “throwing away their vote” on a hard-left non-starter. And Paul Donnelly, only 400 first preferences off Burton three years ago, is still around and still in contention.

But I do think Burton will be re-elected, albeit she will probably take the last seat, and it will not be entirely comfortable. Labour are (very slightly) on the up, Solidarity-PBP had a disheartening performance around here in the locals while Sinn Fein have never been able to break through in the constituency: is the current state of the party adequate to make up the gap? I don’t think so. I would back Burton to retain her seat.

Not that I can claim to be especially delighted at the prospect. On a personal level I know a few people in the Labour Party and I know that there is a younger element that wants to get back to workers rights, left-wing solutions and progressive politics. They are a rejection of the austerity-backing centerism that has defined much of the last decade, which has not been obfuscated under Brendan Howlin’s lame-duck leadership or with Michael D. Higgins in the Aras. Their time is coming. Joan Burton, as well-intentioned as she may be, is an obstacle in their way. In a more general sense, Labour remains lost in the shuffle, and will need another election cycle before they can really be taken as seriously as they were pre-2011.

For Burton, victory is retaining the seat, pure and simple. Defeat is losing it, especially to Donnelly, which would cement Sinn Fein’s status as the preeminent left-wing party.

Next up, Fianna Fail.

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Review: 1917

1917

Trailer

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Mudlife.

Coming into 1917 I had a lot of things in mind. There was the work of director Sam Mendes, from American Beauty to Spectre, always interesting and engaging, even if there has been the odd miss. There was Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, a film that slotted neatly into my all-time top five and that I could not help but think on as I viewed the trailers for 1917. And there was Birdman, the nearest approximation I can remember for the faux one-shot technique that Mendes was attempting for the duration of this feature.

In other words, I was thinking about a lot of films other than 1917. I admit this might well have been a disservice to Mendes’ World War One epic, apparently inspired by stories told to him by his grandfather, a veteran of the Western Front. But the promotional material indicated a film that was taking influence from much that had come before in different ways, even if the director fully intended to not only be influenced, but to surpass. I wasn’t sure he could do it, thinking that we might have been about to witness a film that was too wrapped up in its visual techniques to do justice to the enormity of the setting. Was that the case, or was 1917 more Skyfall than Spectre?

April 6th 1917: on the Western Front Lance Corporal’s Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George McKay) are tasked with a seemingly suicidal mission: to cross no-mans-land and carry a message to another regiment, about to send thousands of men into a German trap, Blake’s brother among them. The journey will be fraught with heartache and peril, taking the two through trench lines, burning towns and into the grisly heart of the First World War.

There was something about 1917, right from the off, that was tickling the back of my brain for almost the entirety of its running time. It wasn’t until the film was over and I saw someone else enunciate an opinion that matched my feeling, that it finally struck me. Watching 1917 is like playing, or maybe even watching someone else playing, a video game. But while that may seem like a criticism, is is meant to be anything but. Like the best video games, 1917 engages you by asking that you put yourself in the shoes of the protagonist, to go through what they go through, feel what they feel and lose what they lose. Many films deign to ask for such indulgence, but it rare for one to frame itself in such a manner that it practically becomes a necessity.

It is a highly-strung never-lets-up kind of affair. Traditional story-telling beats are largely out the window here, in favour of a brutally intimate look at an exceptional day in the life of two British rankers. Both Chapman and McKay excel in their leading roles, exhibiting both the easy camaraderie of the “Tommy” in the trenches, and the required emotional depth for moments of terror, pain and anger. Their interactions allow Mendes to explore the corrupting influence of violence on the soul, the lasting beauty of the world that will always rise above such horror and the differing approaches men have to cope, with Blake longing for the medals that Schofield has thrown away. Blake is eager and desperate to save his brother and prove himself, Schofield is cynical and cautious: being reminded of the positive aspects of the world, and duty to the goal of saving lives, will be part of the journey.

There’s is a monomyth, but what a monomyth it is: “Crossing the threshold” has never been quite as tense as two soldiers going over the top alone, and hoping that the intelligence that the Germans have retreated is accurate, before they wade through the wire, the mud, the craters and, oh yes, the bodies. The film is placed at the centre of an actual historical event – the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, which briefly left parts of the Western Front in flux – but the larger issue of grand strategy is immaterial really: this is about Blake, Schofield and stopping 1’600 men dying pointlessly.

It might be a well-worn idea, but the moments of humanity in the middle of atrocity are what propel the characters forward and make the story one worth following: when Blake pulls Schofield out of a collapsing bunker, instigating an argument over how the two wound up in their position in the first place (Colin Firth’s General appears to have picked Blake for the task precisely because his brother adds an extra level of inventive); when Schofield receives unlooked for assistance in getting a truck out of the mud, in a scene that serves as a cathartic expression of grief otherwise hidden; when a simple gift of milk makes all the difference in the world to one beleaguered person; when we witness troops about to go over the top receiving a final absolution of song. Mendes’ movie is underwritten for large parts but gets by – and excels – by being a kinetic, sometimes frantic, production, with a consistent tension driven by an unseen ticking clock.

All of that being said, I will admit that 1917 did not reach out grab me in the way that I expected that it would, at least not in the same way that Dunkirk did. Even if unstated, I feel like Mendes probably had a lot of Dunkirk in mind when it came to filming 1917, in the way it portrays two very small parts of much grander events. But while it may be unfair to place 1917 next to the pedestal I place Dunkirk on, the same level of connection isn’t there as there was between viewer and Fionn Whitehead’s Tommy or Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot or Mark Rylance’s boat captain in 2017. Perhaps Dunkirk, being a simple story of survival in the face of limited options, has that more visceral side: in 1917, both Blake and Schofield could conceivably turn away from their quest at several given moments. The story of heroically carrying on is not a bad one, but I felt no tears welling up during 1917, when I was in bits at several points of Dunkirk.

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Good luck everyone.

You also cannot but appreciate the manner in which Mendes introduces a queue of veteran actors, some of them, like Benedict Cumberbatch or Colin Firth, big-hitters in their own right, and manages to give them a chance to all steal the show for their brief time on-screen. Colin Firth’s General who wants to stop a pointless expense of blood (a good riposte to the lazy “lions led by donkeys” narrative), Andrew Scott’s lieutenant whose jaded and flippant attitude towards the war hides a certain expertise in trench warfare and duty towards fellow soldiers in need, Mark Strong’s wondering Captain who offers aid freely amidst terrible horror, Claire Duburcq’s young French woman who offers a fleeting emotional connection at a pivotal moment, or Cumberbatch’s disillusioned Colonel who see’s little point in stopping an attack that will just be resumed in a week anyway, they are all characters that make an impression despite having individual screen-time of little more than a few minutes apiece. The script, from Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, has much to be credited for in this, as does Mendes’ sublime direction of his actors.

But 1917 must be considered, almost to a primary extent, on its visual side. Presented as a single-shot from start to finish – though of course it isn’t, even if Mendes hides the breakpoints and stitches together seven-minute takes with skill – we follow Blake and Schofield from their resting place behind the lines all the way to the maelstrom of battle, with one or both of them in shot for pretty much the entire experience. The camera swoops, pans and follows, never letting either man out of its sight for more than a split-second, almost like a third character.

To say that this technique makes an impression would be an understatement. In line with my comments on video game comparisons above, it makes 1917 a much more intimate affair, one where the viewer comes almost to imbue Blake and Schofield, seeing the world of the Western Front directly through their eyeline and immediate surrounds, hitting checkpoints between encounters. What is far away to them is far away to us, and what is nearby to them is nearby to us. The dichotomy between the static nature of the warfare being depicted and the fluid camerawork is not lost on the viewer either. Obviously one’s thoughts stray to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, but this is a much bigger deal and a much bigger challenge for a director: Birdman was, for the most part, a contained indoor shoot with limited principals. This is the great outdoors of the Great War, with hundreds of people in shot at some moments.

1917 would already be a hell of a film for choosing that path to take with its camera, but Mendes, with Roger Deakins doing the business on the cinematography standpoint, merely uses that as a starting point. What the camera actually showcases is the other wonder of 1917. The trenches have been recreated to a tee, right down to the seemingly immaterial details of soldiers lanterns being attachable to rifles, or the difference in ground between various trenches. The landscapes that emerge are at some points beautiful, at others horrific: the rolling plains of wartime France become muddy trenches, peaceful woods become dark caverns. Mendes’ eye for the mise en scene of the close-in shot and the majesty of the wide is on full display throughout.

And some of the sequences created here are quite literally breathtaking. One, whose section of the score is dubbed “The Night Window”, is a haunting display of ruined French streets illuminated in the motion of falling flares and burning buildings. The effect is a delirious mix of the beautiful and the terrifying, added to when the bullets start flying and the soldiers start running. It’s a trip to the underworld, a terrible trial to be endured, and looks simply stunning.

Elsewhere, an exploration of an abandoned tunnel system becomes a tension-filled set-piece by the inclusion of some curious rats and some well-placed explosives; a far-off dogfight between bi-planes gets up close and personal in a hurry; an interlude with a French civilian and the infant she is caring for is the eye of the hurricane; a mad dash through a ruined village that is almost James Bond-ish in its framing; and the final pivotal sequence, wherein we discover if Blake and Schofield succeed in their mission, is a masterpiece of action cinema, a long trailing shot of battlefield chaos, with one primary focus for us to train our eyes upon, sprinting after the ever retreating lens. 1917, if absolutely nothing else, is an achievement in visual story-telling that must be seen, and on the big-screen, in order to be believed.

Thomas Newman, who marks his seventh collaboration with Mendes here (the only one he hasn’t scored was Mendes’ forgettable 2008 rom-com Away We Go), backs everything up with his expressive and moving musical work. It both meets and subverts expectations, full of the taut strings and booming horns you would associate with the war epic, but also trying other things at the same time. The sequence mentioned above, “The Night Window” features a score that emphasises the dark majesty of what we are experiencing, almost an ode to the power of human destruction and what it can impart on us, undertaken by use of a warped, almost off-tune, motif. The familiar Newman touches of long undulating violins melding into panic-filled percussion and booming, almost screaming, winds are all present, but remain, as ever, suitable accompaniments to what is occurring on-screen.

1917 is a film that I have come to appreciate to a greater extent the more time passes since I viewed it. In the moment, as the credits rolled, there was a sense of being underwhelmed, of the film not living up to the expectations set by Mendes’ previous or the obviously influential Dunkirk. But it is better than I initially gave it credit for. The central journey of Blake and Schofield is an engaging one, that says something pivotal about the human experience of war. Mendes does excellent work with his cast, with the impact he is able to get out of the cameo appearances a benchmark in the art. The score is immense work from Thomas Newman. And, visually, 1917 attains new heights in the genre of war films, with a technique and style that stands out at all times and allows for the creation of some intense and moving set-pieces. It may not last as the film of the year, a position it will now fill a provisional poll for, but I doubt there will be much better in terms of the art of cinematography. Highly recommended.

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Coming soon – 1917: 1918

(All images are copyright of Universal Pictures and eOne).

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National Predictions (22 Days To Election)

Having looked at the constituency picture of my own area in Dublin West, time for some brief thoughts on the national picture at the outset of the campaign.

Below is the state that the Dail was left at before its conclusion, with the Ceann Comhairle included among the Fianna Fail numbers for the sake of a more accurate electoral picture. The blue line represents the magic number needed to hold a majority, that every party is a long way aways from.

DAIL1

 

Pretty tight huh? Now let’s have a look at each of the party’s individually, allowing me the chance to formulate my general thoughts on their current fortunes and future chances.

This is make or break for Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael. If the polls that have been largely rigid for the last few years hold true, he might actually have a chance of leading the largest party in the Dail when the counting is done, but I still feel this is unlikely. People are tired of Fine Gael in government, and are increasingly tired of Varadkar, who seems to greater embody the common criticism of being a PR-obsessed do-nothing the longer his term in office goes on. The opening rounds of the campaign have been very negative for Fine Gael, with Varadkar and Murphy’s reaction to yesterday’s tragic story about the homeless man injured by a JCB less than ideal from an electioneering standpoint. The baffling own goal of the RIC commemoration debacle is still fresh in memories. It’ll be difficult for Fine Gael on the doorsteps, with plenty of demographics having reason to mark them down. That being said, I don’t see any kind of major collapse happening either, just seats that were marginal in 2016 falling out of their grasp. I’m predicting, right now, Fine Gael being returned with 40 seats, a loss of seven

Michael Martin and Fianna Fail should return as the largest party, which remains an astonishing thing to say ten years removed from their lowest moment. Whatever about the righteousness of it – more on that in the days to come – Martin should be a fairly safe bet to be forming a government in a few months time. Despite their culpability at every step, they’ll reap the usual benefits of being the side of the FG/FF coin not currently in government, and able to bash and criticise away. It’s hard to see where they lose seats, and easy to see where they might be able to pick them up. But in line with what I said above, I do not foresee some massive swing in their direction either, just a modest, by Fianna Fail standards, increase. I’m predicting them to end up with 51 seats, a gain of five.

Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Fein are in a funny place. The common opinion seems to be that they have plateaued, and uninspiring results in the locals were only partly made-up for by the by-elections. But there is a continuing resentment of the two main parties out there, and Sinn Fein always stand to benefit from that. On the same hand, you can’t discount key events like Gerry Adams stepping away from Louth, and the siphoning of voters by the Green Party. I don’t see them coming away with less seats than they started, though that isn’t entirely unlikely. I’ll predict a very small increase to 23 seats, a gain of one.

Various shades of Independent are level with Sinn Fein in terms of seats, but the wind that was blowing the non-party way has died down a bit in three years. Some of them have gone to Europe, others aren’t running, with the “Independent Alliance” undergoing a quick and surprisingly quiet collapse in the days leading up to the vote being called. Certain people like Michael Lowry and the Healy-Rae’s will have seats for as long as they want them, and more right-wing challengers like Peter Casey and Verona Murphy will make waves. But I still see a drop in “Ind” numbers in the next Dail all the same. I’ll predict non-party numbers to be 16, a loss of six.

Up next is Brendan Howlin and Labour. It’s fair to say that it has been a stuttering and unexceptional 32nd Dail for them, struggling to recover from the 2016 catastrophe with an uninspiring leader and diminished stature. But they have taken their licks, and things can’t get any worse. They’ll hover up their share of the left-wing vote, and may see some returnees who abandoned them three years ago. The stated aim of getting to double figures is reasonable, but I think that is all it will be. I’ll predict ten TD’s returned, a gain of three.

Solidarity-People Before Profit are in a bit of trouble. The local numbers were terrible, and their efforts to make hay out of the FG/FF quasi coalition’s failings appear to have run out of steam with their portion of the electorate. The all too familiar balkanisation of the far-left – Paul Murphy’s RISE being the latest offender – continues to be an Achilles Heel that the larger parties do not share. They’re losing out somewhere, and maybe in multiple places, unless the campaign allows them to grab the spotlight with vocal criticism of government candidates. I’ll predict a return of four, representing a loss of two.

This really is the moment for Eamonn Ryan and the Green Party. Climate change has never been a bigger issue, and there is simply is no other party that can stake a claim to being the party of the environment. Young voters with no memory of their time in government – and no hard-thought interest in their pro-capitalism leanings – will flock to them, and they will be transfer friendly otherwise. Dublin looks like it will be fertile ground, and if the locals/MEP races are anything to come by, they could be looking at a very successful February 8th. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. I’ll predict a return of 12 seats, a gain of nine.

The Social Democrats have never really pushed on, and stagnation or failure here will only increase speculation that they’d be better off merging with Labour or the Greens. There are opportunities for seats, not least in the increased Dublin Central, where Maureen O’Sullivan’s retirement has opened the door for Gary Gannon. Some manner of gain is desperately required, or else Catherine Murphy and Roisin Shortall might as well throw in the towel. After yesterday’s news in Dublin Central, I’ll predict a return of three TD’s, for a gain of one, but they may not make it to to the next poll.

Independents4Change, after the Europe departures of Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, have only a single TD left, in the form of Joan Collins. Dublin South-Central is a tough constituency, and the hard-left vote is down, but someone of her experience should be OK, or at least I would hope so. But one must question the point of a political grouping like Independents4Change if they have only one TD, and I suspect she may quietly revert to being an all-out Independent after being elected. Still, that’s what she is running as, so I’ll predict a return of that single seat.

That leaves Peader Toibin and Aontu. They got a lot of attention when he split off from Sinn Fein, but the the locals were a disaster if going by their leader’s stated expectations. Aontu seem to have a philosophy better suited to the 70’s and 80’s, and the “pro-life” party are just swimming against the current. Worse, I think Toibin, minus Sinn Fein’s backing, might well be in trouble in his own constituency, with plenty of his base presumably following the party to someone else. We’ve been here before, and recently, with Renua. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but I’ll predict they end up with nothing, a loss of one.

As for those political parties without representation in the Dail who may run candidates, there’s Paul Murphy RISE that remains part of Solidarity-PBP for electoral purposes so I include their fortunes with them (for the record, I think he’ll lose the seat). Workers and Unemployed Action are sort of represented by Seamus Healy, but he officially runs as an Independent (and may be in trouble in Tipperary). I am unaware if the Human Dignity Alliance of Senator Ronan Mullen are running any Dail candidates, but they won’t be elected if they are. Ditto for all of the other minor Irish parties, the list of which runs as follows as far as I am aware (comprising registered and unregistered groupings): the Worker’s Party, Republican Sinn Fein, the Kerry Independent Alliance, the Irish Democratic Party, Independent Left, Renua, the Communist Party of Ireland, Direct Democracy Ireland, Eirigi, Fis Nua, the Housing Rights and Reform Alliance, Identity Ireland, the Irish Freedom Party, the National Party, the Catholic Democrats, the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the Irish Socialist Network, Saoradh and Christian Solidarity.

That will leave us with a 33rd Dail that looks like this, reflective of the increased number of seats to 160 and a new majority target of 81.

dail3

What kind of a government would you get out of that? Taking Sinn Fein’s insistence that they will not contemplate an alliance with either of the civil war parties at face value, an outright majority for any coalition would appear to be impossible. A rainbow of FF/Lab/G/SD would be five short, so like-minded Independents could push it over the line, but such an entity would be unlikely to ever come to agreement. The best the left-leaning could get, with SF/Lab/G/SD/Sol-PBP/Inds4Change all together, would be 53. Fine Gael could try and get a formal alliance with Labour, the SD’s and Green to outsize Fianna Fail, but would still be beholden to them to govern.

Therefore, if my predication was to play out, you’re looking at a scenario that all and sundry know is coming: a Fianna Fail minority government, held in place by a “confidence and supply” agreement with Fine Gael. Essentially what we already have, with the names reversed.

But there are still more than three weeks to go in this campaign, plenty of time for things to change. I’ll be offering final predictions just before the vote.

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Dublin West (23 Days To Election)

This is my first general election in my new home in cozy Dublin West, a largely suburban constituency that takes in a wide swathe of upper, middle and working class areas between Castleknock, Blanchardstown, Mulhuddart, Clonsilla, Ongar and my own little patch in Ashtown. It’s one of the most redrawn electoral areas in the land, and Ashtown lies right at the border: a five minute walk to the east is Dublin Central (a reality that means candidates in either constituency often find themselves dealing with constituents from the other).

Local issues – in Ashtown that is – would be housing (both the need for it, and concerns about suburban sprawl as block after block goes up), the status of the Pelletstown Educate Together school, the status of the proposed Pelletstown Train Station, a desire for more amenities in an area that has seen its population go up sharply and rent prices.

There are ten declared candidates in Dublin West, but there is still plenty of time for more to be declared, and I’m sure there will be more (which I will add as they declare: I believe the 21st of this month is the cut-off). Below are snapshots of the candidates, with some links to their respective websites, along with a very cursory assessment of their chances (something more detailed to follow).

Joan Burton (Labour)

TD for over twenty years in two sittings. One time leader of the Labour Party, but that isn’t exactly a great feather in the cap given the circumstances. Clung on in 2016 despite record unpopularity and a significant shift in constituency boundaries. If she survived that, she should be OK for a seat you would think.

Jack Chambers (Fianna Fail)

TD since 2016, formally a councillor. Something of a “One to watch” being under 30. Very firmly in Fianna Fail’s conservative wing. Didn’t make any waves in the last Dail really, but might be poised for something more. Very likely to retain his seat.

Ruth Coppinger (Solidarity-People Before Profit)

TD since 2014, once of the Socialist Party. Very well-known for her various anti-government stances on housing, water charges, and multinational tax breaks. Her party numbers collapsed in the locals, and in her own area too. Must be considered vulnerable.

Emer Currie (Fine Gael)

Councillor elected last year in Castleknock. Doesn’t exactly have a huge profile. Obviously hoping that a massive surplus from her constituency colleague, and some careful vote/area management, will get her over the line, but this feels more like laying groundwork for a more substantial run in a few years.

Paul Donnelly (Sinn Fein)

Councillor for Mulhuddart since 2011. This will be his fifth tilt at the Dail in the constituency, and his vote has increased every time. But given Sinn Fein’s poor showing in the locals around here, one suspects 2016 was his best chance.

Edward Mac Manus (Aontu)

One of twenty candidates from Peadar Toibin’s struggling entity. Ran last year in Castleknock locals where he didn’t do too badly, but was still nowhere near a seat. Unlikely that Aontu will pick up Dail representation here.

Roderic O’Gorman (Greens)

Councillor for Castleknock since 2014, O’Gorman has been the leading figure for the Greens in the area for over ten years now. This is his 6th run at the Dail, and he would need to treble his numbers from that run to have a shot. His impressive showing in the locals bodes well.

Stephen O’Loughlin (Independent)

Former Social Democrat, ran in Cabra-Glasnevin locals last year, with little success. Might benefit a bit from being the only candidate based in Ashtown. Still unlikely to seriously challenge.

Aengus O’Maolain (Social Democrats)

First time GE candidate having run and got nowhere in Ongar last year. O’Maolain will be the first Social Democrat to contest this constituency. Likely to be a case of just putting someone up in every race going. Very slim chance of challenging.

Leo Varadkar (Fine Gael)

TD since 2007, and Taoiseach since 2017, Leo Varadkar is the leader of both the country (for now) and Fine Gael. Regardless of any pain his party might feel in this vote, Varadkar’s seat is as sure as sure can be. He’ll still probably top the poll.

This may work out to be one of the most boring constituencies of the election, as I would think a not unlikely outcome is for the four sitting TD’s to all be returned, albeit with some vote fluctuation. But O’Gorman’s growing popularity,  and the left wings’ recent struggles, can’t be ignored either. If I was to hazard a simple prediction at this early stage:

Varadkar

Chambers

O’Gorman

Burton

Donnelly

Coppinger

Currie

O’Maolain

Mac Manus

O’Loughlin

At this stage I would predict that the Burton/Coppinger/Donnelly battle will be the biggest fight of this area, but Labour’s recovery in the locals indicates to me that Burton should be favoured. The others all have big tasks just to be competitive.

Tomorrow, I will offer some thoughts on the national picture.

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Issues (24 Days To Election)

A new year, a new election and a new constituency for NFB. Having gone through the local, MEP and Presidential elections in my new home of Ashtown, Dublin, February 8th will allow me the chance to exercise my democratic right in the Dublin West General Election constituency for the first time. Now comes that wonderful time of the political cycle, when my blog becomes briefly infested with all talk of “GE20”.

In the coming days and weeks I plan to outline some of the issues that I will be focusing on for this election, and how the parties fare when approaching them in all of their respective manifestos. As well as that I hope to have the time to take a look at each of the candidates competing in Dublin West individually, as soon as the final list of candidates is confirmed, as well as offering thoughts on debates and how I think the campaign is going generally. At some point in the not too distant future I hope to get the chance to look at the Seanad NUI election.

For now, a quick summation of the things that are important to me in the coming vote, in alphabetical order.

-Ashtown

What initiatives are going to be taken to make Ashtown more than a forest of apartment blocks? What are the candidates’ take on the Pelletstown Station idea?

-Anti-Social Behavior

What new steps will candidates take to offset anti-social behavior? What supports will be given to Garda on the same question?

-Brexit

What’s the plan for when the Tories balls it all up? What do candidates envision for our future relationship?

-Coalition “red lines”

Who will you talk to after the counting is done? Who will you refuse to talk to, and why?

-Constitutional Reform

What do candidates plan to back in terms of alterations, or what do they want to stay? The women’s place in the home? God?

-Environment

No empty buzzwords or feeble appeals to the green-conscious masses please. What are you going to do, and what will you back in the Dail, about the climate emergency?

-FAI

What would candidates’ approach be to the FAI? Will they back a bail-out, or would they see the institution fall and be re-born?

-Healthcare

What is the long-term plan for fixing the problems of the healthcare system?

-Homelessness

When is enough going to be enough? What new ideas are going to be posited as a solution?

-Housing

I’d like one please. What additional steps will candidates take to help first time buyers?

-Immigration

Pro? Anti? Plan on checks and balances? Opinions on situating refugees? Direct provision needs serious alteration.

-Insurance

The industry is out of control on all levels. What will candidates pledge to do to rein it in?

-Military

What future do the candidates see for the Irish military? Will they fight for increased pay, and increased deployment?

-Rent

It has skyrocketed under this government. RPZ’s simply aren’t working. Will candidates back a rent freeze? What incentives will they offer landlords to reduce rent?

-Reunification

It’s time for the talk on this to become more than just bland references to the Good Friday Agreement and “Not yet”. What do candidates envision a United Ireland looks like? How will they convince unionists to sign up?

-RTE

The national broadcaster is in bits. How will candidates approach this issue? How will they improve the TV license system?

-Tax

Am I going to pay more or less going forward? If it’s more is it worth it? If it’s less is it costed?

-Transport

Public transport remains an under-funded miasma, but it needs to stay public. Will the candidates commit to that? What will they do to save CIE?

It’s a lot to consider, and all before a leaflet comes in the door or a manifesto is published. Tomorrow, I hope to take a moment to talk about the declared candidates in Dublin West, and offer some initial analysis and predictions. Let the horserace begin.

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