The Dublin Bay South byelection brought a disappointing result for Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael, and a dramatic collapse in the vote for Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s Fianna Fáil.
Labour Party candidate Ivana Bacik won a resounding victory for her party last night, topping the poll on the first count and winning the seat comfortably with transfers from all sides.
Most voters stayed at home despite a high-profile campaign, with turnout well below general election levels at just 35 per cent, according to The Irish Times.
Ms Bacik will now take the Dáil seat vacated by former minister for housing Eoghan Murphy, leaving Fine Gael without a seat in one of its traditional strongholds.
With an hour to go in polling on Thursday night, the official Fine Gael Twitter account shared a post complete with sirens urging voters "not to let Sinn Féin in" as it warned of a "big Sinn Féin turnout” — drawing criticism online.
— Fine Gael (@FineGael) July 8, 2021
After the result, party leader Mr Varadkar said he expected Fine Gael’s candidate, James Geoghegan, would take a seat at the next election, and denied there were any implications for his own leadership of the party.
“I will be around for a little while yet,” he told reporters.
While Fine Gael was disappointed not to retain a seat, Fianna Fáil was shocked to see its vote plummet to just under five per cent.
The party’s Dublin Bay South TD and director of elections, Jim O’Callaghan, cast doubt on Mr Martin’s leadership following the party’s disastrous result.
Asked if the Taoiseach should lead Fianna Fáil into the next election, were it to go ahead as planned in 2025, Mr O’Callaghan replied: “We’ll have to think about that.”
He said the Government needed to be more radical in dealing with housing: “I don’t think Fianna Fáil understand the scale of the problem in housing yet.”
Later in Cork, when Mr Martin was asked about the remarks, he said he would continue to lead the party in Government and into the next election.
“I have made it very clear from the outset when I was elected Taoiseach what I intend to do. I do intend to lead this Government... Getting through Covid-19 is extremely important, recovering our economy,” he said.
Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil would focus on recovering jobs and prioritising housing and healthcare – adding that: “Governments rarely win byelections — they are not in any way markers for a general election.”
‘Need to ask the tough questions’
However, some Fianna Fáil TDs said last night that the party’s worst ever electoral performance has raised serious questions about Mr Martin’s future as leader.
A cross-section of party TDs – some talking on the basis of anonymity – expressed shock at the result and said the historically low support level required immediate action.
“I do believe we need to ask the real tough questions and that includes the leadership,” said one.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin held its share of the vote since the last general election, but failed to make progress in moving into more affluent areas.
Party leader Mary Lou McDonald said the party had received “solid and strong” support and called for a general election, saying the Government was “living on borrowed time”.
The Green Party saw its share of the vote tumble, though party leader Eamon Ryan already holds a seat for the party in this constituency. Mr Ryan said it was a “really good campaign for us”, and that it was “pulling us together as a party”.
Ms Bacik’s election, confirmed just before 9.30pm on Friday night, on the ninth count, is a huge boost for Labour.
Party leader Alan Kelly said Labour had had “10 very difficult years” since the general election of 2011 but would now build on the “energy and engagement” of Ms Bacik’s campaign.
Ms Bacik said she was “honoured” by the result, which she said was an endorsement of the values of “solidarity and equality” as promoted by Labour.