Time to take a look at the candidate from one of Ireland’s newest (renewest?) political entities. And he’s a familiar one for Kildare North voters.
Shane FitzGerald is your Renua man in Kildare North. He’s a one-time councillor, serving in the Leixlip Town Council from 2004, while simultaneously failing to be elected to the Local County Council (Catherine Murphy topped both polls). He was unsuccessful in a subsequent local run in 2014, and the same again twice in the national vote, in 2007 and 2011. Oh, and in all of those elections, he ran for the Green Party, switching to Renua last year. He’s also a “part-time farmer”, and the owner of a flower business.
The very first thing I want to know about Mr FitzGerald, before anything else, is why he switched parties. I think that’s a fairly important thing to know for a candidate like this, but there is no easily found answer. His Facebook campaign page merely has the following on the topic:
While I have changed my Party colours …. My moto is still one of a healthy sustainable environment. I feel Renua has a lot to offer in that it is pro-business, pro-family and it has a new fresh outlook for politics.
Uh huh. So, what does Shane FitzGerald stand for aside from “pro-business, pro-family” type stuff? I’d love to tell you, but his website, as linked in several places, does not appear to be functional anymore, his social media accounts are largely unused, and the policy/belief aggregator sites like The Journal database or WhichCandidate are either empty or using the party line. So, on a personal level, it’s hard to get any kind of read on FitzGerald. According to his Renua candidate page he’s chaired lots of committees on Leixlip Town Council, been involved with Tidy Towns, promoted lots of environmental initiatives…a lot of Green stuff. Why is this guy suddenly running for Renua? That WhichCandidate page is supremely unhelpful: Lots of “None of the above” answers on things like the 8th Amendment, traveller accommodation and free healthcare. And an opposition to wind farms. Uh huh.
Since Renua are a new entity contesting their first election, I can’t offer any kind of cogent analysis of their chances based on the past, not really. I mean, there’s a right/centre right vote in Kildare North, but that’s always been Fine Gael’s. I will say that the smaller parties have never really gotten on all that great in this constituency, be they Green or otherwise.
But Shane FitzGerald does have a past record, and it’s not encouraging. As a Green candidate he was far outside the running in both 2007 and 2011: garnering just under 5% of the vote in his first general run, which then fell to a “Claimed no expenses” level in 2011, in line with the Greens’ national loss of popularity and support. At the last local contest he was back up, to over 5% of the first preferences, but still a fair bit short of claiming a seat.
If that 5% mark is the ceiling, then FitzGerald cannot reasonably expect to challenge, new party or no. I don’t envision Renua getting a larger vote share here, with most of their target demographic probably well inside the pocket of Bernard Durkan and Anthony Lawlor, and, if we’re talking reform-minded voters, Catherine Murphy. FitzGerald himself seems unimpressive as a candidate: doing just about the bare minimum online, and very little about him I would deem impressive in terms of being a prospective TD. I just know so little about this guy, what he stands for, and why he moved parties. He’ll probably do just good enough to break into the mid-card – if Durkan has a large surplus, he might stand to get a bit of it – but I can’t see much beyond that.
And that’s not something to worry me. Renua are just not a party I can get behind, with their messy genesis, pro-rich economic policies, draconian justice ideas and eerie sense that there are a harder right party than they want to let on. Sure, in the course of this campaign I’ve seen a few things about their policies I like, but the general impression I have is still one of guarded distrust. From the looks of the polls, they might actually be down seats by the time the counting is over, which would be a gigantic kick in the teeth, but I suspect the polls might be under-estimating them: I still think they’ll at least retain their current number of TD’s, and will look forward to a more energetic showing at the locals. Right now is just about getting names out there, and they are even being conservative with the amount of candidates running, just 18. Three TD’s will be a half-decent return from that number. Shane FitzGerald will not be among them.
A victory for him would be to breach that 5% mark and survive a few counts, getting a good foothold in the likely middle group of O’Rourke, Merriman and Young. Defeat would be something close to his 2011 performance, to be stuck with the also-rans at the bottom.
Next up, Sinn Fein.