Ah, Fine Gael. What a rollercoaster of a term it has been eh?
Two-thirds of your government candidates in Kildare North are Deputy Bernard Durkan and Deputy Anthony Lawlor. Durkan was first elected to the Dail back in ’81, and has spent the majority of the intervening years still there, with a brief aside in the Seanad. He’s tied with Michael Noonan for fourth in the “Longest serving current TD’s” placings. In opposition he’s held a number a “front-bench portfolios” and was a Minister of State for Social Protection between 1994 and 1997. Lawlor was elected to the Dail in 2011, having previously spent a few years as a councillor.
Durkan is an old school guy. He doesn’t have his own website, making do with the Fine Gael candidate page, and his pre-election tweet record was spotty. As such, if you’re a newcomer to Kildare North politics, it’s a bit hard to get a read on the guy. Swimming pools, Garda healthcare, prescription costs: from that website, you wouldn’t really say that he stands out from your bog-standard TD. Looking at his history, his length of service would seem to indicate someone who should be higher up the chain than he is. After all, he’s been in the Dail as long as Michael Noonan. The Limerick man is the current Minister for Finance and led the party at one point. Durkan was a Minister of State for just three years. Why is that? Is it his own choice, or is he not deemed capable? According to this, he’s one of the most stalwart Fine Gael TD’s for actually being in the Dail and asking questions, so what gives?
His WhichCandidate entry lacks any comments and toes the party line pretty much everywhere. Same for SmartVote. On The Journal, he bigs up his record helping people, mentions housing as his key issue and drops “economic recovery” as a soundbyte with aplomb. How about a leaflet? Some random policies there, from opposing “Brexit” to advocating repeal of bail laws.
Anthony Lawlor is a farmer by trade (no offence to the guy, but that’s not hard to guess is it?) He has a website, with a big emphasis on things “delivered” to various parts of the local area. Indeed, Lawlor seems quite proud of his local record, mentioning his door knocking straight off the bat here, with his policy page mentioning quickly how he listens to his constituents. But in many ways, his website seems to be taking personal credit for everything that Fine Gael have done in the last five years, with very little “in Kildare North, I lobbied successfully for…”. Even his local sections parachute in developments elsewhere, like the Luas line extension to Broombridge, that will have knock-on effects down the line in Maynooth. All seems like a person really desperate to appear like he’s doing everything he can do. I’m not sure why exactly, but I just find it a tad off-putting.
Edit 15/2/16: This Rabble story (and the first comments response) shows Lawlor up as a man desperate to claim responsibility for every good news story going, even when they have little to do with him. It’s an unattractive trait in any political candidate.
Unlike Durkan, he actually goes a bit further with things like WhichCandidate and Smartvote. Mostly the party line as well, but I appreciate the personal effort to explain the positions, even if I didn’t happen to agree on things like USC, the refugee crisis and rent controls.
In 2011 Fine Gael helped to blow the traditional balance in Kildare North out of the water, taking 32% or so of the first preference vote, Durkan getting his best result ever in topping the poll, with more than enough votes to drag Lawlor with him. I mentioned Michael Noonan before, and the situation is eerily similar to that in Limerick City, with an elder Fine Gael TD of long standing taking in the huge vote, that then gets a junior over the line, in a way he probably couldn’t before. Lawlor was a fair bit off a quota – in fact, he never reached it – and needed the transfers from the more popular Durkan to get elected. It’s probably worth noting that the two Fianna Fail candidates got more votes between them, and a single FF candidate might have been able to get ahead of Lawlor.
But that was then and this is now, with Fine Gael support a long way from where it was. They lost a seat in the locals, going from nine to eight, and were well beaten by Fianna Fail. On the face of it, Durkan seems like as safe a bet as you can get for a Fine Gael seat outside of Mayo, though he will obviously be down a bit. It would take a huge swing to see him in trouble, though he will have to settle for second behind Catherine Murphy, more than likely.
It’s Lawlor who should be looking over his shoulder. If polls hold true, there’s no way he will have the support he needs alone, and it’s unlikely that Durkan’s transfers will be enough to save him. Luckily, his opponents have conspired to make the task just a bit easier, with Fianna Fail running two candidates again, and the left wing cluttered up between five different people of varying competitiveness. So much will come down to the transfers of Durkan, and to the success or failure of other transfer policies involving other candidates.
In the end, Durkan is getting re-elected, but I don’t think that Lawlor will. If Fianna Fail don’t get him via James Lawless, then Sinn Fein’s Reada Cronin will surely be lurking, or Brendan Young if the national Independent numbers hold up. Both Fine Gael TD’s are of the inoffensive, stay-out-of-the-national-papers-at-all-costs brand of TD. For an old hand like Durkan, who has been playing this game for over 30 years, that’s fine. For Lawlor, it just isn’t.
And that’s not really a bad thing. While Lawlor seems like a decent enthusiastic fellow, he also seems like the legacy candidate not sure of his footing – his mother was a Senator and a councillor, whose seat he inherited – and if you’re talking government failings in Kildare North, his lack of presence has to be noted. Durkan’s does too of course, but he at least appears to be in the Dail constantly, making inquiries for constituents and maintaining his support base.
But regardless of all that, I’m not voting Fine Gael in this election, having erred that way in 2011 to an extent. I’m not as critical as others when it comes to the government, but there’s pain aplenty, cronyism, incompetence with things like Irish Water and the Seanad referendum, economic mistakes and a litany of broken promises, that should never have been made in the first place. Fine Gael needs a reminder that what is given can be taken away, and the loss of at least 20 seats, if not more, should do just that. And Kildare North needs government TD’s who do more than just turn up, and then do their best to stay out of trouble. Durkan has the experience in politics to be a Minister by now, but hasn’t been, for the most part. Lawlor is a new man non-entity in so many ways. That’s unsatisfactory to me, in line with my dissatisfaction for a party again making promises and pledges that I do not believe they can keep. Lawlor might be better off at local level, and Durkan, well, I’m sure at this point there’s very little to be done.
The aim for Fine Gael is to retain the two seats, but they would probably not be too cut up if it ended up being just one. So unlikely is it for both seats to be lost that failure can probably be judged merely in percentage of first preferences that disappear in favour of Fianna Fail and left-wing options, and if and by how much Catherine Murphy tops the poll.
Next up, the Greens.