Tuesday 12 December 2017

Joan Burton facing tough struggle to hold seat after by-election horror

Dublin West

Labour Minister Joan Burton at the count in the RDS. Photo: Tony Gavin
Labour Minister Joan Burton at the count in the RDS. Photo: Tony Gavin

Niall O'Connor, Political Correspondent

THE catastrophic collapse in the Labour party vote in Dublin West will prompt fears deputy leader Joan Burton will be fighting hard for her seat in the next general election.

While party sources never expected candidate Loraine Mulligan to be in the running, they were quietly confident that her vote would be maximised by the staunch support of the Social Protection Minister.

However, Ms Mulligan finished in a miserable seventh place.

Her performance could signal an uphill battle in the future for Ms Burton, one of the most high profile Labour politicians in the country.

The by-election in the end was comfortably won by the Socialist candidate Ruth Coppinger, despite a strong showing by Sinn Fein's Paul Donnelly.

"Not even Joan Burton is safe on that result. It was a disaster," said one TD close to the Deputy leader.

The Labour Party secured just short of 30pc of the vote in the 2011 General Election, which almost ensured the election of Patrick Nulty alongside Ms Burton.

And Mr Nulty went on to top the poll just over eight months later in a by-election prompted by the death of former minister Brian Lenihan.

But Labour's vote in Dublin West has now shrunk dramatically.

Ms Mulligan, the party chairperson, secured just over 1,500 first preference votes.

She was out-polled by the Green Party's Roderic O'Gorman.

Sources in the party say she was privately "devastated" at the result which came during a dismal day for the party nationwide.

But others expressed sympathy for the SIPTU worker and pointed out that she was "parachuted" into Dublin West because the party had no other viable candidate who was willing to run.

And Fine Gael must now decide whether the party's candidate Eamonn Coghlan should go in front of the electorate again following his poor performance in this campaign.

Despite his celebrity status, Mr Coghlan struggled to connect with an electorate that has become extremely disenchanted with the government parties in Dublin West.

Meanwhile Ms Coppinger's Socialist Party has now doubled its representation in Dublin West following the school teacher's impressive victory.

She finished with well over 12,000 votes in what also represents a significant achievement for Socialist TD Joe Higgins.

At one point during the campaign, Mr Higgins launched a scathing attack on Sinn Fein over an election leaflet which claimed it was the "leading party of the left".

But the by-election itself was very much a victory for the left wing parties.

They attracted significant numbers of new voters due to their opposition to the water charges and property tax.

Sinn Fein's Paul Donnelly topped the poll in first preferences but he did not pick up the transfers required to be in the mix at the final stages.

Nonetheless, Mr Donnelly's 20pc of the first preference vote represents a significant achievement for a man who lost his seat on the council just five years ago.

There was a strong Sinn Fein contingent in the count centre in RDS awaiting the arrival of party leader Gerry Adams and Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Mr Adams said Mr Donnelly is now well-placed to compete for a seat at the next general election, which he said should now happen immediately.

For Fianna Fail, it was another hard luck story for well-known councillor David McGuinness.

Mr McGuinness's vote always remained short of his main rival Ms Coppinger, who picked up significant transfers from Independent candidate David Hall and Mr Donnelly.

"I'm disappointed, of course I am, because I want to be in the Dail to fight for the people of Dublin West," Mr McGuinness told the Irish Independent.

But like the Sinn Fein candidate, Mr McGuinness is likely to win a seat at the next general election.

Irish Independent Supplement

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