Monday 9 December 2019

Gilmore has a lot riding on forgotten by-elections

Eamon Gilmore Photo: Joe Travers.
Eamon Gilmore Photo: Joe Travers.

John Drennan Political Editor

THEY are understandably the forgotten elections. However, the peripheral status of the Longford-Westmeath and Dublin West by-elections may not be entirely accidental.

Though in theory one would think Dublin West and Longford-Westmeath could not be more different, they are strangely similar.

And chillingly for Labour leader Eamon Gilmore both are, courtesy of the high-profile political personalities of Joan Burton and Willie Penrose, Labour strongholds.

The success in Longford Westmeath, where Labour won 26.71 per cent of the vote in 2011 and in Dublin West, where it secured 28.99 per cent and came within striking distance of a second seat, means the contrast will be all the starker if the party only polls a Meath West-style 6 per cent next week.

Of course in the good old days, Dublin West provided further political treasure when Mr Gilmore could luxuriate in the status of being the first leader of a government party to win a by-election in three decades.

It all turned somewhat sour for all parties since, but, given that Labour is running party Chairperson Lorraine Mulligan in Joan Burton's stronghold, a positive result will be expected.

If it isn't secured, Mr Gilmore's political biological clock will start ticking ever faster, and he won't be alone.

In Dublin West, the performance of the high-profile mortgage arrears advocate David Hall will say much as to whether the rise of the Independent vote is a mere frolic.

The strength of the Sinn Fein surge and Paul Donnelly will be tested here by the Socialist Party's Ruth Coppinger, who faces a severe task to defend the political bulwark created by the legendary Joe Higgins.

For Fianna Fail the dreadful fear must be that if David McGuinness fails a second time in Brian Lenihan's old seat of Dublin West, any capital comeback is an illusion.

Leo Varadkar, meanwhile, also faces a fascinating balancing task for should Eamonn Coghlan be elected in adverse circumstances, Leo will start to look like the sort of fellow that can win elections.

But any minister would be wise to be wary about the delights of having Fine Gael's senatorial Billy Whizz, Mr Coughlan, as a running mate in a tight election in 2016.

Meanwhile in Longford Westmeath, the ongoing potency of both Fianna Fail and the O'Rourke dynasty faces its severest test.

The excess of Athlone-centred candidates means many believe Albert Reynolds son, Philip, would have fared better.

Ultimately, given the tragic circumstances surrounding this by election, the FG candidate Gabrielle Mc Fadden is a warm but not a hot favourite.

But, the current FF incumbent Robert Troy will sleep as uneasily as Donie Cassidy used to in the heyday of Mary O'Rourke should Aengus O'Rourke poll well.

And he would be right.

Close attention will also be paid to SF's grooming of Paul Hogan whilst the Independent Kevin 'The Boxer' Moran, who experienced a spectacular KO in his FF days when he took on Ireland's Queen Mum, Mary O'Rourke, could poll respectably.

Ultimately FG will be the most hopeful of all the parties, for outside of Longford Westmeath the apolitical nature of Eamon Coughlan means there may not be the sort of a smell of FG around him that would damage his chances.

Ironically, though, such a result would cheer Fine Gael up, it could weaken the coalition cohesion even further.

It would mean this would be the first modern administration to win four by-elections in a row.

But if Enda wins both and goes running around grinning and kissing the badge whilst Labour bag a pair of Meath Easts, no one will be smiling.

Sunday Independent

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