Saturday 20 January 2018

Fianna Fail asks Sinn Fein voters for transfers in by-election battle

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

FIANNA Fail is under fire after asking Sinn Fein voters to use their transfers to help elect its candidate in next week's Meath-East by-election.

Fianna Fail's Thomas Byrne has sought second preference votes from Sinn Fein voters – but he hasn't told his voters to transfer to SF candidate Darren O'Rourke or anyone else.

Labour led the criticism against the Fianna Fail move. Kerry TD Arthur Spring said: "It's not clever at all. There are an awful lot of people who would have an affinity with Fianna Fail but would not want them associated with Sinn Fein."

Although there is no official transfer pact between the parties, it is believed to be one of the first occasions where Fianna Fail has publicly courted Sinn Fein electoral support.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin ruled out going into coalition with Sinn Fein as recently as last month.

Next week's election is widely seen as a two-horse race between Mr Byrne and Fine Gael's Helen McEntee, and Fianna Fail's chances would be hugely boosted by Sinn Fein transfers.

A Fianna Fail spokesman said the party welcomed "transfers from all parties in this constituency and in every constituency in the country".

However, Sinn Fein is refusing to specifically ask for transfers from Fianna Fail, or to tell its voters what to do with their lower preferences.

"We'll take transfers from wherever they come. Transfers are a matter for voters, not the parties," a Sinn Fein spokesman said.

Both parties have surged ahead in opinion polls in recent months.

Mr Byrne told the Irish Independent Mr O Rourke's supporters should "absolutely" give him their second preference.

"If they're committed to Sinn Fein I'd be very grateful for their number two but I'd ask them to look seriously at the choice that's here," Mr Byrne said on the canvass in Ashbourne.

"What everybody seems to be saying, all the analysis is that it's between me and Fine Gael and I'd ask people to look seriously at whether they want the Government to have another backbencher, whether they want an endorsement of the Government's policies."

But when it came to Fianna Fail voters, he said: "I hope that it will only be the number ones that count for me at the end of the day."

The canvass in the Milltown estate, mixed with local authority tenants and private homeowners, saw Mr Byrne receive a broadly positive reception, although many of those canvassed were already Fianna Fail voters. Others were so disillusioned they vowed not to vote.

But one man, 51-year-old David Connor, said he was a traditional Fine Gael voter who would be voting for Mr Byrne.

"I know Fianna Fail, the developers and the bankers left us all in the crap," Mr Connor said. "There is a way of getting us back on track but taxing us so much that we can't work won't do it."

He said Fianna Fail's heavy defeat in 2011 was a "wake-up call" which the party learned from. "They were so used to being in power they lost the run of themselves."

Mr Byrne says he has a "very good chance" of winning back the Dail seat he took in 2007, but lost in the Fianna Fail meltdown in the 2011 General Election.

"If you look at the polls, we have definitely improved. We clearly haven't won back all the support that we had before. That's obvious from the polls, it's obvious from the doors.

"People are seriously considering putting me in because they don't see the value of another backbencher on the government backbenches and they think I could do a job on the opposition benches."

Irish Independent

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