Aengus O’Maolain is a first time national candidate for the Social Democrats (having previously been a member of Labour Youth). He is the branch chairperson for the party in Dublin West, and its LAR in the Castleknock/Blanchardstown area. He ran in Ongar in the locals last year, finishing tenth of thirteen.
My thoughts on the Social Democrat candidate for Dublin West allows for a brief discussion on something that pops up in Irish politics more than you might think: essentially, what do you do when you like a candidates’s platform and position, but have a negative opinion of the candidate for a completely separate reason?
I have sort of encountered O’Maolain before, back when he was the President of the NUIM Students Union and I was an MA student in the final stages of my college life, a time that feels a lot further away than it was. I did not know him in any kind of personal or social way, only through his election campaign then and the opinions of various college politicos that I knew at the time, and some that I still do. I am not going to go into the nitty-gritty details, because we’re talking about campus politics and the conduct of campaigning in that environment, the sort of stuff that many will naturally think unimportant, small-fry or even petty. But it suffices to say I was not a big fan of his, or the manner in which he ran for that office (quite successfully), or aspects of his Presidency.
But that was ten years ago. People change in that time. God knows I have. A little. Kind of. Maybe. Having reflected on the matter since I first saw O’Maolain’s name pop up in the list of Dublin West candidates, I do think it is unfair to judge him on such things as his Maynooth political career, but I also did not want to ignore it entirely in this post. This is because, as is a matter of public record on this site, I gave my #1 to the Social Democrats in the last election. Since I view that party and its candidates positively, I did not want to do so here without that sidebar above, lest people I know in the real world wonder if I was commenting positively on a Social Democrat candidate with a deliberate purpose of obfuscating the fullness of my opinion.
So, with that out of the way, what do I think of 2020’s Aengus O’Maolain? Well, I have always had an appreciation for the Social Democrats’ platform, and that’s especially true in this election, where they compare well with other parties when it comes to throwing out wild, unsustainable promises to the electorate, instead focusing more on things like Slaintecare. O’Maolain’s time living in the Nordic countries presumably makes him better than the average Soc Dem at outlining just why the Scandi model is such a desirable one, if you can trust Ireland’s political parties to deliver the kind of social services that are supposed to come out of increased/reformed taxation.
Other than that it is fair to say that O’Maolain’s personal platform is essentially that of the party at large, with a few nods to the odd local issue like the Luas or more recreational spaces in the Dublin West region. It’s actually a little uninspiring in a fashion, especially in comparison to the likes of Roderic O’Gorman, who manages to embrace the Green manifesto and get across his constituency platform at the same time. This is not to say that O’Maolain is a bad candidate, but I get the unmistakable feeling, from his literature and from his social media, that he knows he hasn’t a hope, and that winning a seat in the Dail is not the primary objective here.
I like the Social Democrats, and I would likely be giving Catherine Murphy my #1 if still based in Maynooth. I do think they stand to gain at least one seat – Gary Gannon in Dublin Central – come Sunday, and maybe a few more. That would be good for the Dail and the country, that could do with more voices like Murphy or Roisin Shortall in that chamber. But too many of their candidates elsewhere are too new to the game and too also-ranish before they even start. O’Maolain is one of those, another candidate who seems very much to be running in a General Election just so he can grab some profile for a future local run. It could be argued that the Soc Dems would be better off using the resources being employed in Dublin West helping more likely candidates elsewhere.
Does O’Maolain have any chance of being elected? Not a bit. The Soc Dems will be looking to Dublin Central for a seat in the capital, not here. O’Maolain’s sole electoral run, in the locals last year, had a very poor return of just over 300 FPV, and that means he will need to put in a lot more work just to be competitive at that level, let alone in the constituency at large. I don’t doubt that he will be transfer friendly, but it won’t be enough to put him into contention. He’ll have enough to do to just break into the mid-pack.
A victory for O’Maolain is to be ahead of MacManus, Casey and, on an extremely good day, maybe even Currie if the poll slump of Fine Gael holds true. Defeat would be to be mired below all of them, running the risk of becoming an electoral irrelevance before he has even really gotten started.
That’s it for my profiles of the Dublin West candidates. In the next few days I want to look at a few more issues, offer some thoughts on how the campaign has fallen out and lay out some final predictions, before letting everyone know how I plan to vote and why.