2 June 2014 Edition
By-elections – Near-upset in Dublin West and surge in Longford/Westmeath
Elections 2014 Special
SINN FÉIN’S Paul Donnelly came within a hair’s breadth of causing major upset for Establishment ‘political experts’ in the Dublin West by-election, doubling the Sinn Féin vote and topping the poll on first-preference votes.
The by-election came about after Labour TD Patrick Nulty resigned following reports he had sent inappropriate text messages to a young female constituent. From the day the by-election was announced, RTÉ and major news organisations had written off Paul Donnelly. When the by-election candidates were interviewed on RTÉ News it was only the Socialist Party, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour contenders who got a look in; Paul was excluded. Yet in the constituency the word was the Paul Donnelly was doing very strongly. Radio stations and journalists who went out canvassing with him were keen to point out how he was “by far the best on the doorsteps” and the enthusiastic support he was getting.
Speaking on the eve of polling day, Gerry Adams told An Phoblacht that Paul Donnelly could take the seat even though the Socialist Party’s Ruth Coppinger was the bookies’ favourite with the Fianna Fáil candidate tipped as the challenger:
“Some people might think this is an impossibility but there is a seat to be won here. We want to see change and the people of Dublin West want to see change.”
When the vote came through in the Citywest count centre, it was Paul Donnelly who had topped the first-preferences with 21%, followed closely by Ruth Coppinger. Unfortunately, transfers did not go Paul’s way and Coppinger eventually took the seat.
• Paul Donnelly topped the poll on first-preference votes in the Dublin West by-election
The by-election was an unmitigated disaster for Labour in an area previously considered a bastion for the party. Labour’s Lorraine Mulligan came seventh out of ten candidates. The party’s share of the vote plummeted from 24.3% in 2011 to a mere 5.2%
Gerry Adams told reporters at the count that the huge increase in Sinn Féin’s vote will hopefully see the party take a seat there at the next general election:
“What Paul Donnelly has done, and we can’t take any of this for granted, is put his name on the seat next time round. Sinn Féin are here and we’re here to stay.”
The Longford/Westmeath by-election, caused by the death in March of Fine Gael TD Nicky McFadden from motor neurone disease, also saw Sinn Féin more than double its share of first-preference votes.
The sister of the late TD, Gabrielle, easily topped the poll for Fine Gael followed by Fianna Fáil’s Aengus O’Rourke, son of former Fianna Fáil minister Mary O’Rourke. In third place was Sinn Féin’s Paul Hogan with an impressive 15.4% of first-preference votes.
In a similar fashion to Dublin West, Labour performed abysmally. Initially there had been speculation as to whether they would even bother to field a candidate, such was the backlash against their sell-out in this part of the state. In 2011, the party topped the poll in the constituency with nearly 20% of the vote yet their vote collapsed to less than 7% this time round with their candidate coming in seventh of nine candidates and behind a number of relatively unknown Independent candidates.
• In Longford/Westmeath there was a surge in support for Sinn Féin’s Paul Hogan
Paul Hogan, speaking at the count centre, told reporters who noted his creditable performance:
“Sinn Féin has gained considerably here. People want change and we are the party to bring that change. I have been working for 10 years in this constituency and will continue to do that. Sinn Féin will consider who it will put forward in the next general election and I hope that I will be in a position to represent the people of Longford/Westmeath then.”
What is clear in both Dublin West and Longford/Westmeath is that at the next general election Sinn Féin will be a serious contender to the Establishment parties.