In terms of the arithmetic that governs the balance of power within Leinster House, the results of the four by-elections make little difference. The only way in which the Government can be forced into calling an early election is if Fianna Fáil support a motion of no confidence, and there was little evidence that even in winning two of the contests that they are anxious for a winter poll.
In any event, the very low turnout would caution any of the parties about extrapolating from the results as to what might happen in a general election. In truth, most voters obviously regarded the by-elections as meaningless given that there will be a general election within the next several months.
The Greens will be pleased to have taken Fingal and Sinn Féin got their vote out in two of the constituencies where they already hold seats. Party newcomer and one of the main cheerleaders in Sinn Féin for abortion, Louise O’Reilly, will be concerned at the continued collapse of their vote in Fingal where their candidate polled poorly.
For Aontú the votes for Finian Toomey in Cork North Central and Councillor Jim Codd in Wexford are evidence that the party has survived the difficult initial phase, and has already established a more substantial presence in both those constituencies than the Social Democrats and People Before Profit, especially given the fact that the far-left has a seat in Cork North Central.
Polling at 5% in Wexford, and 4% in Cork North Central is an achievement for a party barely a year in existence with no public funding. More importantly, Aontú has clearly established itself as a voice and a recognisable brand, a notoriously difficult task for a new party. They will be looking to build on these results in the coming months ahead of the national election.
Sinn Féin are obviously apprehensive about Aontú’s potential to take votes as evidenced by their campaign in the north where Aontú posters and canvassers have been the target of those determined to shut down an alternative republican voice. In Wexford, Sinn Féin printed a ‘sample ballotpaper’ which might be in breach of electoral legislation as it could be seen as an attempt to mislead voters by excluding the Aontú candidate Jim Codd.
The election of Mark Ward for Sinn Féin in Dublin Mid West is an interesting development. For many years Ward, who like quite a number of Sinn Féin’s current representatives and apparatchiks, is barely a wet week in the party, was for a long time a bitter opponent of Sinn Féin. In 2009 he even stood as an independent solely for the purpose of trying to stop the Sinn Féin candidate in Clondalkin, Matthew McDonagh,
Now that he has been elected, he and Éoin Ó Broin are in the unique position of being the only two Sinn Féin TDS from the same constituency. And as anyone familiar with the trials and tribulations of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil knows this can often lead to what are euphemistically termed “creative tensions.”
One long time Sinn Féin activist is of the belief that if there was an open convention to decide who the candidate would be, that Ward would win the nomination. Running two in the constituency would guarantee the loss of the seat.
So what will Ward do? Given his long time antipathy to Sinn Féin and having realised something that was probably beyond his dreams, will he accept being told in a few week’s time that his 15 minutes of fame are just going to be that. Maybe 15 weeks at a push. Or will he be tempted to try and oust Ó Broin at a convention and stand as the party candidate? Or failing that, run as an independent with the wind in his sails from a successful by-election?
What makes it even more interesting is that there are those among the unelected core group that runs Sinn Féin who would not exactly be broken hearted to replace Ó Broin, whose leftie liberalism some of them find irritating, and perhaps not even an electoral asset any more. And more than that, they have someone else now.
Watch this space!