Saturday 19 October 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Only half of the people will vote but their voices will tell us a lot'


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Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Voters go to the ballot boxes for all sorts of big reasons: housing, transport, climate action, economy.

But in truth it's probably the little things that will make up the minds of many people this Friday: footpaths, potholes, green spaces, even dog poo.

Local elections are more about the mood of the neighbourhood than the nation.

Yet they offer political parties a very good insight into what candidates are capable of tapping into the local psyche. Who gets the issues? Who is good on the doorsteps? Who might be worth a shot on the big stage?

The continuing fear of the main parties that a general election could be sprung upon us at any time means they have already selected most of their candidates.

But the top brass in Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin will be carefully studying the ballots this weekend with a view to possibly changing their wider strategy.

These elections are very much a dry run for a general election that is likely to come in either October/November or February/March.

In fact, the results of the local election could actually determine which of those dates is chosen for the main event.

Fine Gael lost 105 seats in 2014 but was not overly panicked because its coalition had a strong Dáil majority.

Party sources say they will be happy to win back some of the seats lost, maybe 20 to 30.

That is less ambitious than they would have hoped to achieve a few months ago, and would still leave Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in second place.

But the spin doctors will tell us that any gain in a mid-term election for a government is a big win.

Fianna Fáil has 415 candidates and is very hopeful of retaining its 267 seats. Twenty-two of its councillors became TDs in 2016, proving that the local authority is an important stepping stone to the Dáil.

If the party wants to lead the next government, it will need another strong showing - and then to assess whether it has selected the right candidates for the general election.

This will inevitably result in internal feuding, but party chiefs will be ruthless if they have to.

Sinn Féin had an extremely good day out in 2014, yet the polls suggest it hasn't made big inroads since.

Under Gerry Adams, it got 159 seats. Holding those will be a challenge.

And finally the Labour Party is in dire need of a comeback performance. It is being squeezed on one side by Sinn Féin and on the other by the Green Party. But the party's long-term survival is at stake. Only half of people will vote on Friday - but for the main parties those ballots will tell a lot.

Irish Independent

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