Meath East could herald new electoral dynamics
Voting takes place this Wednesday for the Meath East by-election. A total of eleven candidates are to contest the seat previously held by the late Fine Gael Minister of State, Shane McEntee.
Even though Fine Gael and Labour won a combined 62% of the vote in the 2011 General Election, a win for the government is far from guaranteed.
Fine Gael’s Helen McEntee, the daughter of Shane McEntee, is being tipped to inherit her father’s seat. But she will need the transfers of second preference votes, and how these will distribute is highly unpredictable.
It is unlikely she will receive from Fine Gael’s coalition partners, Labour. That party’s support has fallen into single digits, according to the latest national opinion polls, and is following the same downward trajectory which destroyed the Green Party in their disastrous coalition with Fianna Fail.
Fianna Fail remains synonymous with high-level corruption and the mismanagement of the economy under former leaders Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, but its traditional support base of public sector workers, pensioners and small farmers appears to have largely returned. While pinning their hopes for an electoral rival on the poor memory of Meath East voters, they will also require transfers from unlikely sources. However, a suggestion by Fianna Fail candidate Thomas Byrne that Sinn Fein voters use their second preferences to help his election only provoked ridicule.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told party voters not to transfer to either Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour.
“The very last thing that Meath East needs is another government backbencher or a return to the failed politics of Fianna Fail which have left this state with a legacy of bank debt, mortgage distress and unemployment,” he said.
“Fianna Fail created the economic and fiscal crisis. Fine Gael and Labour are now making things worse for struggling families.”
Sinn Fein’s Darren O’Rourke should significantly increase his party’s vote in the constituency from two years ago, and could well be in contention for the seat. However, his chances may be hindered by the forced emigration in recent years of many young and unemployed voters who might otherwise have supported him.
Despite the wintry weather, party leader Gerry Adams and Meath West TD Peader Toibin have assiduously canvassed alongside O’Rourke this month. Both represent neighbouring constituencies, and with much of Meath East coming within Dublin’s traditionally conservative commuter belt, a seat here would mark a key breakthrough for the party.
Born and raised in Kells, O’Rourke worked as a medical scientist at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and is now policy advisor to Sinn Fein’s health spokesperson, Caoimhghin O Caolain TD.
“I strongly believe that Meath East needs a new voice, someone who is not part of the political consensus,” Mr O’Rourke said recently.
“If elected I will demand fairness and stand up for ordinary people against unjustifiable cuts and charges such as the Property Tax.
“Meath East does not need another Government TD. It is already represented by two government TDs and the government has an overwhelming majority. Nor does the constituency need a return to the failed politics of Fianna Fail which have left this state with a legacy of bank debt, mortgage distress and unemployment.”
The polls will open on Wednesday from 8am to 9pm. The following is a complete list of the candidates:
Thomas Byrne - Fianna Fail
Ben Gilroy - Direct Democracy Ireland
Eoin Holmes - Labour
Charlie Keddy - Independent
Mick Martin - Independent
Seamus McDonagh - Workers’ Party
Helen McEntee - Fine Gael
Gerard O’Brien - Independent
Sean O Buachalla - Green Party
Darren O’Rourke - Sinn Fein
Jim Tallon - Independent