By-election victory may mark turnaround for Sinn Féin

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Sinn Féin’s candidate Mark Ward has been elected to the Dáil following a poll-topping result in the Dublin Mid-West by-election which could represent a change in fortunes for the party following the setback of the local elections in the 26 Counties.

Despite a record low turnout, Mark Ward delivered a victory which stunned political observers. According to the sitting Sinn Féin TD for the constituency, Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin had succeeded by encouraging working families out to vote.

Mr Ó Broin described the 24% vote share achieved by the local councillor as “an incredible result, especially given the very low turnout”. He said working people and families had been “frustrated” with the failures of the government “but when convinced will vote for change”.

Mr Ward noted that his first vote in the Dáil on Tuesday would be on a key no-confidence motion in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy. He said the issues which came up in the campaign were about “waiting lists in hospitals, of people waiting for housing, of people being cut to the collar around high rents, stuck in gridlock in transort, everything.

“We knew this message for very early on. No-one really gave us a chance but we knew, from the people we were talking to, that we had a great chance for this”

Mr Ward won on the ninth count with 7,669 votes, ahead of second placed Fine Gael candidate Emer Higgins on 7,144 votes, following the distribution of transfers from third-placed Independent Paul Gogarty, and after successfully picking up transfers throughout the count.

In Wexford and Cork North-Central, Sinn Féin’s vote share was also back almost exactly to the levels of its record election result in 2016, indicating that those voters who stayed away in recent years have come back in response to the party’s return to more traditional left-republican policy positions.

Asked what had changed since the local elections in May, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she had “learned a million lessons” since then.

Elsewhere, there was an impressive win for the Green Party in Dublin Fingal, while two seats went to Fianna Fáil in Cork North-Central and Wexford.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was dealt a severe blow after his Fine Gael party failed to pick up a single seat. Some of it was self-inflicted, with the party’s candidate in Wexford expressed openly racist views in recent weeks, before releasing a bizarre last-minute campaign video in which she claimed she was the victim of “character assassination”.

It was a successful day also for Aontú, establishing itself as a significant small party in its first Dáil election with 4% of the vote in Cork North-Central and and 5% in Wexford. But all of the political parties expressed concern at the records for low turnout, which hit 26% in Dublin and 33% in Cork, where one ballot box was completely empty when opened.

Mary Lou McDonald blamed the apathy on a “false choice” presented to voters by the media of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

She said the party’s vote in the by-elections has shown that voters are starting to indertand they represent a “clear alternative” to Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. “We are the only party in a coherent and strong way that will represent working people and their families and really deliver”.

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