Friday 31 October 2014

Keeping candidates in the family proves a winning formula for canny Fine Gael

Published 26/05/2014 | 02:30

Ruth Coppinger and  Sarah Siddiq (8) at the local and European election counts at City West Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Ruth Coppinger and Sarah Siddiq (8) at the local and European election counts at City West Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Ruth Coppinger celebrates. Photo: Gerry Mooney

This battered and buffeted Government has managed one astonishing but little-noticed feat.

The two coalition parties have between them won three by-elections since entering office on March 9, 2011. For the greater part of 30 years prior to that, victories in Dail by-election were the automatic property of the opposition parties.

You have to go back to May 1982 when Galway East TD, Noel Treacy, won a by-election for Fianna Fail and Charlie Haughey's shortlived minority administration, to find another government party win. But in October 2011, Labour managed a win in Dublin West through Patrick Nulty, the man who looked in briefly to a few parliamentary party meetings before he joined the Independent ranks.

In March 2013, Helen McEntee of Fine Gael took the seat held previously by her late and much-loved father, Shane McEntee. And early yesterday morning, Fine Gael's Gabrielle McFadden took the seat left vacant by the tragic death of her sister, Nicky, in Longford-Westmeath.

Fine Gael's success in by-elections is down to an old formula, which also brought Taoiseach Enda Kenny into Leinster House in November 1975. That same formula was also pursued by Fianna Fail and to a lesser extent by Labour. This formula involves choosing the most presentable and likely member of the bereaved family and putting in a huge party campaign on their behalf. Getting the deceased incumbent's family name on the ballot is crucial.

Randomly, we can note Des O'Malley's selection in Limerick in 1968 to successfully challenge for his uncle Donogh's seat and Mary Upton's election in 1999 on to the Labour seat held by her late brother, Pat, in Dublin South Central.

At first glance, the Dublin West by-election win by Socialist Party contender, Ruth Coppinger, late on Saturday appears rather different. But in fact there is a definite "dynasty element" attaching to it also.

Ms Coppinger, who brings the number of women TDs to a record 27, is the named successor to veteran left-wing battler, Joe Higgins, who says he will quit the Dail at the next general election. This win was vital to the survival of Mr Higgins's small Socialist Party as their MEP, Paul Murphy, is set to lose his European Parliament seat.

Mr Higgins followed this by-election win with a heartfelt appeal to all the small radical left parties and groupings to unite. On past experience, this seems a forlorn hope – but veteran leftists are nothing if not persistent.

Irish Independent Supplement

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