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Let’s be honest: These bye-elections have been awful, and totally pointless

Already this morning, you’ll find, if you look for them, tweets from journalists about how the turnout is low in Ireland’s four bye-elections, which are taking place today, and will be counted tomorrow.

Conventionally, the media does not discuss the specific issues around a campaign on, or before, polling day, and even though no such rule applies either to this website as an online publication, or to bye-elections in general, we’ll stick to it here, and talk only in general terms.

The larger point, though, is that the four contests we’re having today are completely pointless, and the results don’t matter. For weeks now, voters have watched various candidates pledging that if elected, they will be a “voice” for x, or y, in the Dáil. Not one word of it was true.

The present Irish Government is perfectly secure in office for as long as the present opposition continues to prop them up – and Fianna Fáil has said that it will do just that until at least May of next year, when the country will have a general election that will, if the polls are right, give us either a Fine Gael government propped up by Fianna Fáil or a Fianna Fáil government propped up by Fine Gael, either of which will do largely the same things in largely the same way.

No candidate elected today will change the fundamental arithmetic in the Dáil chamber.

In essence then, the only purpose of the bye-elections is to provide some insight into how the various parties are doing, as compared to what they are trying to achieve.

Fine Gael will be hoping to win at least one bye-election, likely in Dublin Mid-West, so that it can avoid any talk of a backlash against the Government. Fianna Fáil will be hoping to win at least two, if not three, though that is complicated by candidate specific difficulties in Dublin Fingal. The objective for Micheál Martin was to win that seat so that he could demonstrate that FF was an appealing choice to urban liberal voters and young women.

The other parties will all be hoping to catch some magic in a bottle with one candidate, somewhere, so they can present the victory as some kind of evidence that the country is ready to embrace a Labour/Sinn Fein/Green alternative. The Social Democrats and Aontu will be hoping that good local candidates will be able to demonstrate that they have appeal when voters hear their arguments, which in fairness, they don’t normally.

In essence, today is not about electing voices for change – it’s just four, massive, state funded focus groups that are primarily useful to the political class, and not really of any use at all to the people voting in them.

As for the actual policy differences between the parties? The serious choices range from more spending and more social liberalism from Fine Gael to a workers revolution from Solidarity/People before Profit, or whatever their name is these days.

It is utterly remarkable that in five weeks of campaigning, not one political party, or candidate in these bye-elections has had anything remotely interesting to say about the state of the country, or one new or interesting proposal to at least start a debate. The campaign has been dominated instead by controversies involving candidates from both main parties, at least one of whom made the mistake of saying something slightly controversial and then ran away and hid for the rest of the campaign lest she be asked about it.

If you are a voter today who is concerned about crime, or immigration, or taxes being too high, or someone who is uncomfortable with a rampant social liberal agenda, or even just a voter who wants to see an interesting debate about the state of the country once in a while, do yourself a favour:

Don’t bother voting. You’re only encouraging them if you do.

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