KATE O’CONNELL’S melodramatic wail about a Leo Varadkar leadership faction undermining her prospects of a nomination in the Dublin Bay South byelection is wide of the mark.
Until it became clear – via all 12 FG branches in DBS mandating convention delegates to vote for James Geoghegan – that O’Connell would not win at convention, the discussion at leadership level had focused on the fact that O’Connell’s name recognition was far greater than Geoghegan’s. This was a more powerful factor than residual resentment of Kate’s pro-Coveney stance in the leadership contest and her attention-seeking public comments. It meant that O’Connell was seen by some, at least among party strategists, as the more effective vote gatherer than smooth-talking junior counsel, Geoghegan, regardless of his vaunted legal and Blueshirt pedigree. But the local members were dead set against O’Connell after the years of self-entitlement and ingratitude to former housing minister Eoghan Murphy, without whose aid she would not have become a TD in the first place.
In what could be seen as a reflection of FG paranoia in the constituency, Irish Times columnist Stephen Collins warned last week that a Sinn Féin byelection victory would mean it would win power at the next election. But there is a sneaking feeling among some in DBS that Labour barrister Senator Ivana Bacik could be the main threat to Geoghegan.
Despite Labour’s wipe-out in 2020 and 2016, its former TD Kevin Humphreys polled respectably in 2020 and like O‘Connell was not that far behind the last successful candidate in that election. What Bacik lacks in working-class appeal she possesses in spades among the disillusioned liberal/soft left voters in this middle-class ghetto.
The trick for Bacik is to stay as close as she can to Geoghegan (and whoever is the SF candidate) on the first count which may not be that hard in a mid-term byelection, despite this being prime FG territory. Then the transfers will kick in, presenting a quite different electoral picture. SF will hardly attract many transfers from Greens or Social Democrats, although it will be interesting to see what proportion of Fianna Fáil transfers it receives. It is difficult to see Green transfers going to Geoghegan after the FG performance in government and their natural home after that would be Labour or Social Democrats, with Bacik’s name being a bigger draw than any Soc Dem. The Soc Dem transfers will flow almost entirely to Bacik, while she can also expect a reasonable proportion of FF transfers.
FF voters will divide between SF, Independents and even Labour, with many of them willing to vote for Bacik if they believe she can knock out the Blueshirt candidate. (It’s called coalition government solidarity.) The real question then is: where will Geoghegan get his transfers from?
However, the other, increasingly vital question is that of housing. With even the sons and daughters of highly paid professionals in Dublin 2, 4 and 6 unable to buy a pad in their own desirable areas, might a chunk of the south Dublin Blueshirt electorate give a protest vote – in the secrecy of the ballot box – to the Provos?