By-elections are to be held in Meath and Kildare in just three weeks after the Dublin government yielded to pressure to name an early date for the polls.
In a surprise move, Government ministers conceded to Opposition threats to disrupt parliamentary business for weeks unless they got their way. Bertie Ahern’s Fianna Fail party is facing a battle to win either seat in the polls, set for March 11.
The elections are being held to replace Fine Gael’s John Bruton in Meath and Fianna Fail’s Charlie McCreevy in north Kildare. Both have taken up senior appointments in the European Union.
The only republican candidate in either election is Sinn Fein Councillor Joe Reilly, who will contest the Meath poll.
Meath is one of the fastest growing counties in the country but is suffering from the development of sprawling suburbs for commuters working in Dublin.
Other issues in Meath are job creation and the location of the new M3 motorway -- currently planned to bisect the archaeologically important site of Tara, the ancient capital of Ireland.
Speaking following the moving of the by-election writs, Mr Reilly said “These elections provide an opportunity for real change.”
Upbeat on his prospects, the Navan-based campaigner narrowly missed out on a seat in the last general selection, when five seats were up for grabs in the county.
He said: “Sinn Fein is going into these elections in confident mood. Since coming so close to taking a seat in the 2002 General Election, Sinn Fein’s phenomenal growth has continued in the county with more and more people supporting our agenda for change. We are confident of taking this seat.”
In the next election, Meath will be divided into two three seater constituencies of Meath East and Meath West, posing problems for Sinn Fein and the other smaller parties. Reilly will certainly be using this election to stake a claim for a seat next time out.
The Government and Opposition parties will also face challenges from independents. A group of Independent deputies met yesterday to consider whether to support a Leixlip councillor, Catherine Murphy, in Kildare North.
According to the Independent TD Finian McGrath, at least three Independents will support her.