Editorial

Dublin South is no bellwether

July 17th, 2021 5:10 PM

By Southern Star Team

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THE result of the Dublin Bay South (DBS) by-election is being analysed and pored over by pundits and political experts far and wide.

Many are using it to reflect on what might happen in the next general election.

But there are two major reasons why this constituency should not be used as a bellwether for a general election outcome. Firstly, past experience has shown that by-elections are unreliable predictors of general plebiscites.

And secondly, the predominantly upper middle class areas which make up the constituency do not tend to reflect national trends in voting.

It is a constituency where half of all adults are ‘professionals’, 57% of all residents have third-level qualifications, and 44% live in private, rented accommodation.

It was, in the past, populated by a large transient group of young residents, given it largely comprised the ‘flatlands’ of Rathmines, Harold’s Cross, Ranelagh, Terenure and Rathgar, but in more recent years, a lot of those apartments have been repurposed into homes for the aforementioned ‘professionals’.

In the past, it has not only supported Fine Gael, but also lent strong support to the Labour Party, the Greens and, of course, the short-lived Progressive Democrats.

The poor showing of Fianna Fáil (with just 4.6% of the vote) did not, therefore, come as a huge shock to analysts, nor perhaps to Fianna Fáil itself.

Dublin has not been kind to the party in recent years. And by-elections are rarely kind to government parties.

It simply gave Micheál Martin’s detractors another reason to call for a head on a plate.

But we would be more surprised if there were not some rumblings about leadership in The Republican Party’s ranks. Hardly has a year gone by in its history without some whisperings of discontent with the man at the top.

Within hours of FF critics digesting, and regurgitating, the poor result in DBS, there were wiser commentaries about this not being the time to rock the party boat.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have confounded even the greatest barstool philosophers with their ability to keep a joint steady hand on the tiller, despite the increasingly rocky seas they have had to navigate through the pandemic.

The director of elections for Fianna Fáil in the Dublin constituency, Jim O’Callaghan, cleverly ‘pivoted’ the blame for the result to those in the party who ‘didn’t understand’ the housing crisis.

But he pulled back from calling for his leader’s head – on this occasion.

If nothing else, the election was a welcome respite from the depressing news on Covid variants, although those candidates who lost out badly may disagree.

The winner, Ivana Bacik, was being heralded as the saviour of an otherwise ailing Labour Party, winning a spectacular 30% share of the first preference vote.

But Ivana is a high profile female candidate, who has been on the political scene from a very young age, and whose policies and affable demeanour likely garnered her votes from a far wider cohort than just those coming from the Labour party faithful.

And therein lies another reason why the main parties must not overly-analyse DBS when preparing for the next general election.

But, for the rest of us, it was a welcome reminder that there is more to life than the pandemic.

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