A GLOWING political obituary of former Labour minister Joe Costello was delivered from the appropriate pulpit of the Irish Times last week. The lengthy article covering Costello’s political career of over 50 years managed to avoid any unseemly mention of Labour’s self-destructive role in a coalition government with Fine Gael that resulted in the former’s existential crisis.
Pity the plucky party activist, senator Marie Sherlock, who is attempting to revive the dead political cat that Labour now resembles in Dublin Central (DC) and where Joe and former MEP Mrs Emer Costello once ruled like some Medici couple. At one point, Joe was a junior minister while Emer was an MEP.
Earlier, following the death in 2009 of local TD Tony Gregory, the couple planned for Emer to run in the subsequent by-election and were nonplussed when party colleagues explained that such a move might indicate an embarrassing surfeit of ambition. Emer withdrew but not before she extracted a commitment to become first substitute to Proinsias De Rossa as MEP, which saw her replace him in 2012 when he retired.
There were fears that Sherlock would suffer the same fate as the even hardier Joan Burton, who fell foul of Joe’s iron grip on the small, tightly controlled party machine in DC back in the late 1980s before deciding to flee to Dublin West. Next up was the almost equally ambitious Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who found Labour’s constituency organisation more like a patch of nettles than a bed of red roses and who fled to Dublin North-Central and then Dublin Bay North (see The Phoenix 30/11/18), where he is now a TD.
Despite then Labour leader Brendan Howlin’s entreaties for “young, vibrant candidates”, Joe failed to support Sherlock’s nomination to the local elections in the Cabra-Glasnevin area in 2019, although she came through convention and also the election to become a councillor that year.
But in recent years Emer, who did not waste her time as an MEP in the two-and-a-half years to 2014, built up a most successful profile and business as a lobbyist – or, as she describes herself, a “Consultant (EU & Public Policy)”. More recently, Emer landed the position of head of advocacy and campaigns for Rehab.
Given Emer’s successful career turn and the current political architecture of Dublin Central, the Costellos have not fought as tenaciously as before to dominate their territory. The modern political reality is that if DC remains a four-seater, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and a running mate will take two Dáil seats and Labour will be nowhere in the running for either of the remaining seats.
Local politicians expect that DC will become a five-seat constituency in the imminent boundary revision but, even then, the last three seats will be fought over by Fine Gael public expenditure minister Paschal Donohoe (if he has not landed a top Brussels job), Fianna Fáil senator Mary Fitzpatrick, Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon, the semi-detached Green TD Neasa Hourigan and Independent councillor Christy Burke.
Sherlock is a capable candidate with an impressive record in the trade union movement but her party is in the last-chance saloon and she will not figure at the next general election. And close scrutiny of all constituencies show that SF and the Soc Dems between them could virtually wipe out Labour at the next election.