Countdown to the Wexford By-election
The appearance of posters on poles across the county last Thursday signalled the start of a by-election campaign that will culminate in Wexford going to the polls on Friday, November 29.
Back in June, news that Independents 4 Change candidate Mick Wallace had been successful in his bid to obtain a seat in the European Parliament brought a big smile to the face of the Wellingtonbridge native at the Cork count centre. Decked out in his trademark pink t-shirt, he posed, shades on in the summer sun, and bid Dáil Eireann a fond 'ciao'.
But Mick won't have been the only one smiling in the wake of his European success. While it may feel like a lifetime ago now, that sunny day in June brought with it a maybe unexpected opportunity for the major parties as they circled around his vacant Dáil seat, keen to test the waters ahead of a potential general election next year.
In June a by-election in Wexford, Dublin Mid-West, Dublin Fingal and Cork North-Central was by no means a certainty. The clever money was on a general election taking place nationwide negating the need for by-elections in the four areas. In fact, up until a few weeks ago, one or two of the Wexford by-election candidates were themselves doubting that it would go ahead.
However, Brexit goings-on across the Irish Sea are having a major impact on our political landscape. With the UK being granted a further extension until January 31 of next year, nobody wanted to pull the trigger and dissolve the current government. And so with a six-month time limit on the vacant Dáil seat being filled, the Wexford public are set to join voters in three other constituencies in giving a flavour of the political feeling of the nation as we cast our votes on November 29.
It's been a long time since the people of Wexford voted in a by-election. In 1945 the people were called to the polls to elect a replacement following the passing of Richard Corish who had been a member of Dáil Éireann for 24 years. His son Brendan was elected in a landslide victory,
This time out, we're in very different territory. Independents 4 Change have not yet put forward a candidate to contest for Mick Wallace's seat and predictions would suggest the scene is set for a shootout between the main parties to see who can make a gain.
Fianna Fáil's Malcolm Byrne, Fine Gael's Verona Murphy and Labour's George Lawlor are expected to lead the way after the first count.
Having topped the poll in Gorey in the local elections and put in a very strong performance in June's European elections, Malcolm Byrne's stock is high at the moment. However, his selection as by-election candidate for Fianna Fáil is not without controversy as he displaced the party's previously chosen general election candidate Lisa McDonald, who was critical of the manner in which she was replaced.
Given her high profile as President of the Irish Road Hauliers Association, Verona Murphy is also tipped to do well. Having faced a baptism of fire, garnering criticism for comments made on national TV in relation to homelessness in Wexford, she has been putting in the leg work and is held in high regard within the leadership of Fine Gael, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving in town to officially open her constituency office during the summer.
While Labour leader Brendan Howlin is considered the closest thing the party have to a 'banker' in terms of a guaranteed seat, for the by-election the decision has been taken to run his long term assistant, regular poll-topping councillor and current Mayor of Wexford George Lawlor. While undoubtedly Cllr Lawlor is a popular figure within Wexford town and district, it remains to be seen how his popularity will transfer to other areas, as he will require votes from across the county to get over the line.
Among the other declared candidates is former Sinn Féin councillor Johnny Mythen, who lost his seat in the last local elections but will be hoping for a stronger SF vote from across the constituency this time around.
Also in the race are the Aontú councillor for the Rosslare District Jim Codd; long time environmentalist Karen Dubsky; Cinammon Blackmore of People Before Profit and newcomer to the Wexford political landscape Melissa O'Neill of the Irish Freedom Party who is a former Kilkenny councillor.
In gender terms, that's a 50-50 split - a first for any election to date in the Wexford Constituency.
Political analysts expect a low turnout at polling stations around the county on November 29. By-elections traditionally draw lower turnouts, and with the evenings shorter, the weather disimproving and people's minds turning towards Christmas, the appetite for an election may be diminished. While the local and European candidates were out in the sunshine on people's doorsteps during the summer, this is an altogether different proposition and that could impact on numbers significantly.
Nonetheless people are encouraged to take the time to exercise their democractic right and vote. To check that you're registered, you can visit www.checktheregister.ie.
Some would argue that George Lawlor has been in campaign mode for some 15 years. Regarded by many as the perennial master of the photo-op, he's put in the hard yards over a long number of years in the role of councillor. However, now the Wexford town man is taking on a different challenge, as he sets his sights on Dáil Éireann.