Having gone over the details of the count on Monday, I wanted the chance to say something a bit more substantial about the election in Dublin West, ahead of some thoughts on the national picture tomorrow. Let’s go through the candidates one by one, in order of final position, which, if you don’t remember, is as follows:
Sinn Fein’s Paul Donnelly obviously had a great election. He hit the ground running from the off, campaigned actively, and benefitted from an already strong position owing to his decades at the forefront of local politics in the area. He only had to improve a little on previous performances to get a seat, but improved massively, with a vote share that exemplifies how much Sinn Fein have increased their general attractiveness across various demographics of Irish voters. Donnelly picked up plenty of votes everywhere, though obviously his bases in Mulhuddart and Ongar remained his mainstays. Whether such a performance can be repeated again is another question entirely.
Fianna Fail’s Jack Chambers was the definition of the comfortable candidate. Not his pro-life views in a largely pro-choice constituency, not his car-crash interaction with Claire Byrne, not the fact that he was surrounded by old white men anytime I saw him on the campaign trail, nothing could really stop him. His portion of Dublin West remains Lenihan country, and the result was a core of support that was enough on its own to put him in prime position for a seat, aided later by transfers from Aontu, Fine Gael and Labour, that managed to put him second. There are 7’000 or so voters who will always go for Fianna Fail here, and I have a feeling we will be putting with Chambers and his 70’s aesthetic for a while to come.
Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar had as much of a night to forget as anyone who actually gets elected can have. Not topping the poll and struggling to attract transfers, were all symptoms of the larger Fine Gael malaise in the constituency (and in the country), and resulted in the somewhat embarrassing sight of a Taoiseach having to wait five counts to be declared (though his election was assured from the off). Like Chambers, there is enough of a core Fine Gael support in the constituency, and especially in Castleknock, that Varadkar will be here for a while, but its obvious that he lacks the same party machine that previous Taoisigh, must notably Bertie Ahern just across the way in Dublin Central, have had in the past. Like Fine Gael at large, there is work to be done by Varadkar to win back some of his own backyard.
The Greens’ Roderic O’Gorman took longer to get here than I thought he would, but was the other big success story of the night, taking the last seat with some belated breathing room. It’s a reward for decades of service to the area and to his party, and a just result for what was an energetic and committed campaign. The Greens obviously targetted this seat, and O’Gorman was a great candidate to attract transfers after a decent FPV percentage: a moderate environmentalist with pro-choice, pro-capitalist and pro-enterprise leanings, in a constituency where such things will always be popular enough. Like the party at large, he won big by being that kind of likable candidate, always good for a #2, #3 and so on. Whether the step up to TD will be the making or breaking of him will be an interesting question to see answered.
The first of the losing candidates was Solidarity-People Before Profit’s Ruth Coppinger, who jumped into a provisional 4th early, and stayed there until the final count. Coppinger fought hard in this campaign, but it wasn’t enough in the end, her thunder stolen by a mixture of Donnelly and O’Gorman. It’s a shame, and not just because she was my own #1 pick. The Dail and the constituency are worse off without her for sure. But she simply wasn’t good enough at picking up transfers outside of Donnelly. I’m sure she will be back trying again at the nearest opportunity though, and good luck to her.
The really big loser of the night was Labour’s Joan Burton, returned with a measly FPV percentage, the lowest of any run she has made at this level. Her campaign was lethargic in all respects, looking very much like a token attempt just because Labour has to let her try. It’s a sad end to a once promising political career, but Burton has no-one to blame but herself for what she has come to. Time for Labour in the area to try with someone else.
Fine Gael’s Emer Currie really had no business in this election. Fine Gael were already struggling with the Taoiseach, and there seemed to be no time or resources to gift her way, making Currie seem like a sop to gender quotas than a legitimate candidate in her own right (and sharing the senior’s man’s Castleknock backyard). I’m sure she will be back again at some point, and maybe by then there will be more to her.
Aontu’s Edward MacManus did OK, but his placing here, in eighth and never in contention, exposes the naivety or misinformation of Aontu’s supporters, who I saw repeatedly insisting that Dublin West was a place they were targetting for a seat. Another candidate from Castleknock, MacManus just about got beyond his local election vote share and then proved unpopular for transfers. His lack of success is reflective of both Dublin West’s lack of time for the Aontu message, and for the fact that Lenihan’s supporters had an actual Fianna Fail candidate to back.
The Social Democrats’ Aengus O’Maolain will have to be satisfied with an increase from his local numbers, and some increase in his name recognition. On a day when his party colleagues were solidifying their relevance elsewhere, he came across as a real throwaway candidate with that FPV, who has many years of difficult campaigning ahead of him if he ever wants to become a genuine contender. That’s not impossible, but it will be a long, hard road.
Independent Peter Casey was resoundingly defeated here, after a campaign that consisted of an opening publicity stunt, some childish leaflets, and nothing else, a situation largely matched in his native Donegal. Without a bored media to indulge his idiocy, he had nothing. Is this the end for him? One can hope.
Independent Stephen O’Loughlin was surprisingly poor in terms of FPV, getting no benefit from being the only Ashtown candidate, or from what I thought would be some at least halfway decent chance for transfers if he could last a count. I suppose it was just too hard to get his name out there. Some work to be done on the local level before he can get even close to being a contender for a council seat.
Independent Sean O’Leary got 24 votes, reflective of his total lack of campaign and notice in the constituency.
Dublin West has its four TD’s. Now we get to see how long they last before we are back in the campaign trial again.