Dan Boyle: Bye Bye Elections


From top Taoiseach Leo Varadkar canvassing with Fine Gael by-election candidate Verona Murphy in Wexford town; Dan Boyle

Recent Dáil by-elections have tended to be coupled. We have to go back to 1952 to see more than two by-elections held on the same day.

In 1945 five by-elections were held, a housekeeping exercise after travel restrictions from ‘The Emergency’ were lifted.

The largest number of by-elections on one day was in 1925, for seven constituencies to fill nine vacancies than resulted from that number of Cumann na nGaedheal TDs resigning in protest at its government handling of an army mutiny.

The nine loosely formed a political party, the National Party, although only one of these nine contested the by-election, and that was in a constituency he hadn’t previously represented.

For the most part, and particularly in the early life of the State, single seat by elections have favoured Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael candidates.

By elections became the main vehicle for entrenching the hereditary principle of wives/sons/daughters assuming seats.

Only in recent years have these patterns begun to change.

The holding of a number of by elections simultaneously sometimes gets referred to as being a mini general election. They rarely are.

On occasions they can be. Clann na Poblachta won two by elections on the one day in 1947, announcing its arrival as a potent new force. While the party would go on to win a third by election, it was to prove a false dawn.

When Jack Lynch lost two by elections in Cork, in 1979, it brought to an end his time as Taoiseach. That indirectly led to his replacement by Charles Haughey.

As it happens Haughey had been unsuccessful in a by election in 1954, when the son of the long sitting TD, Alfie Byrne, had the better of him.

It could be said that Pearse Doherty’s 2010 victory, Sinn Féin’s only such by election win, hastened the end of the Fianna Fáil/Green government. Although by then that end had already been well and truly hastened.

Most by elections can’t be extrapolated onto a national political picture. Turnout is lower than in general elections. Local issues tend to muddy the waters. The electorate tends to make collective calculations on which of two or three candidates are in the strongest position to challenge.

Just like football teams that specialise in cup or league competitions, less traditional political parties have begun to specialise in by elections.

In recent years the Socialist Party, in various guises, has won two by elections. During its brief lifespan the Democratic Left also won twice.

The Progressive Democrats never won a by election, although its founder Dessie O’Malley came into politics via a by election as a Fianna Fáil candidate.

The Green Party has yet to win a by election. I’m hoping this might change this weekend. I have a selfish reason for wanting that to happen. I am the best performing Green Party by election candidate in its history. Twenty five years ago I won 16% of the vote in Cork South Central. It’s about time someone did better.

Success in a by election is no guarantor of future political success. Almost one in five by election winners are not elected in a subsequent general election.

A more interesting correlation is that by election runners up are quite successful in being elected in later elections.

Maybe those are the lines we should be reading though this weekend?

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews

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22 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: Bye Bye Elections

  1. italia'90

    Morning Dan,
    I’m curious to know how the canvass went in Fingal?
    I ask simply because we didn’t have any candidates call to the door except one

      1. italia'90

        I saw him a couple of times, but he wasn’t canvassing the public,
        more the publicans if you catch my drift.
        He must be one of the few politicians who can put on weight during a campaign!
        I’d be mortified to have a waiste that size.
        He should consult a good doctor.
        Then again, maybe he shouldn’t?

        1. V

          Fine Gael weren’t going to risk any bright young thing up there in Fingal

          He’s still good for 13 plus % of the 1st prefs tho’
          I reckon anyway

          1. italia'90

            The last time FG had a bright young ting in Fingal, she was still calling herself Adele King ;)
            This constituency is controlled by big money on the behalf of the land bankers and developers who reside here and many of them are related to each other and certain FG councillors on Fingal CC
            Even the current Minister for the Enviornment has property interests he inherited from oul
            granda C Russell Murphy, former embezzler to the stars and former Bank of Ireland chief executive

            You should get yourself an invite to the FG Presidents Ball in the Burlo,
            It’s like walking onto the set of the film
            “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover”
            Disgusting lewd behaviour and manners is an understatement!

  2. Dan Boyle

    Seems to be going well. Don’t think 100% coverage is ever possible but they have been covering a lot of ground.

  3. italia'90

    I completely understand that you never get 100% of the doors covered,
    even during a normal GE cycle.

    I was a canvassing ops organiser for one of the smaller parties for many years
    and developed their s.o.p’s, which still seem to be in use today, as their leaflet drop was quickly followed up
    here by the candidate canvassing the doors within 72hrs. [still not voting for them]

    I live in the heart of a very strong FF ward, with many of their party apparatchiks as my near neighbours,
    they’ve suddenly all become completely invisible, just like they did during the recent referenda.
    A surprise result seems to be on the cards in Fingal imho.

  4. Ban Doyle

    No one in their right mind would vote for a party who claim to be able to control the climate with taxes.

    When you have no talent, no ideas, and no personality you only have two choices: lie to the electorate or rig the vote.

    Then you get the lackies in the overpaid, ego-fueled, fake news media to smear, slander and censor any opposition to your nonsense.

    Ain’t that right Blodger?

    1. GiggidyGoo

      Some contribution from the Green candidate in the Newstalk debate the other night. Never heard such drivel (apart from Dan Boil’s).

  5. Truth in the News

    Were not the Greens complicit in ensuring there was no by election called
    in Donegal …..Dan

    1. GiggidyGoo

      Don’t expect the bould Dan to reply – he might though with a ‘It’s in my book’ or the like.

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