Election 2020: the view from Dublin Bay North

Councillor John Lyons running for election in Dublin Bay North, pictured in the evening on a ladder, smiling as he lifts a post with a large poster of his head and shoulders, on which is written Vote No.1, Cllr John Lyons, Independent Left.
Councillor John Lyons is running for Independent Left in Dublin Bay North and has a real chance of a seat.

Nine days into the campaign, how does the picture look for Independent Left?

When senior Fine Gael members took the decision to dissolve the Dáil on 14 January and began campaigning for a general election campaign they were feeling complacent. The other parties were looking towards a May date and were caught without election materials to hand, while Leo Varadkar had his posters up before the election had officially begun. The timing seemed right, not least because Fine Gael anticipated benefiting from the fact that Varadkar appeared impressive beside Boris Johnson in the negotiations around Brexit and the Northern Assembly was up and running again, with the Irish government having played a part in this.

Moreover, in the champagne bubble that surrounds Fine Gael, the world looks extremely positive: the number of millionaires in Ireland has increased by a third since 2013, to 78,000 and these millionaires are paying income tax at the same rate as people earning the average wage. Many of Ireland’s wealthy are landlords (a third of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail TDs are landlords) and are enjoying a growth in their incomes from tenants who are desperately squeezed. In North County Dublin, average rents rose by 5.6% in 2019 to €1,728, having risen by 11% in 2018.

With unemployment below 5% and economic growth levels relatively healthy compared to the rest of Europe (around 5% in 2019 and a predicted 4% for 2020), Fine Gael strategists rubbed their hands and set out for what they assumed would be a very good election for them.

In fact, it is going to be a very bad one.

The problem with elections, from a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail point of view, is that you have to go outside the champagne bubble and listen to voices that don’t normally concern you. And while the 78,000 millionaires are powerful voices and highly networked to these parties in the day-to-day running of Irish society, they are vastly outnumbered when an election takes place.

Fine Gael suffering a backlash in Dublin Bay North

By now, Fine Gael have discovered that there exists a huge body of people who far from enjoying increased prosperity are suffering enormously. For the majority of people in Ireland in 2020, life is extremely stressful. Yes, we have jobs. But the money we earn disappears into rents and mortgages, into childcare, into bills, including medical ones when the services we need urgently aren’t there. Everywhere, there is pressure on our living standards and obvious neglect of public services, especially health, education and transport. And alongside these very immediate causes of stress is the wider issue of a planet that is getting distinctly warmer and jeopardising our futures and that of our children.

Not one person has mentioned Brexit or the Northern Assembly in our canvassing. We hear awful stories of long waits for health services, which bear out the figures that, for example, that Dublin North has 2,400 children on the waiting list for speech and language therapy (in contrast to the waiting list of 10 for Dun Laoghaire, and 0 for Dublin South East).

The anger at Fine Gael is palpable and while Richard Bruton’s seat is safe (Dublin Bay North has its affluent areas and in a constituency that voted heavily for Same Sex Marriage and Repeal, the government might get some credit for those referenda), he won’t be able to bring home Catherine Noone.

Fianna Fail share the blame for deprivation and neglect in parts of the constituency

A lot of the same anger is directed at Fianna Fail too, understandably given the ‘confidence and supply’ agreement that meant Fianna Fail propped up Fine Gael. It’s very common to hear a mistrust of politicians all together from those we canvass. And for communities in Dublin Bay North that have experienced far more than a decade of neglect such anger is entirely justified. In the circles that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail move, there is no consequence for creating pockets of real poverty, desperately poor services, feeble civic amenities, or schools deprived of facilities. For the rest of us, an approach which has favoured the wealthy has resulted in very severe consequences. There has been a rise in drug use and in the appeal of criminal gangs for young, disenfranchised people. Many people have said they are afraid to go out of their homes and there are parents in parts of Dublin Bay North that simply cannot let their children run out and play, instead they take buses to get to safer areas. And since Fianna Fail are as complicit in the creation of these circumstances as Fine Gael, they are not likely to be able to bring in Deirdre Heney, though Sean Haughey is certain to keep his seat.

Is there a seat for Independent Left in Dublin Bay North?

With both Finian McGrath and Tommy Broughan retiring, the consensus among the political correspondents of RTE and the Irish Times is that this will boost Labour and the Social Democrats relative to everyone else. Yet from our canvassing and from what we can learn from the 2016 election, it seems like Councillor John Lyons of Independent Left is currently best placed to appeal to those who voted Tommy Broughan and has a lot to offer those who voted Finian McGrath. The two independents were very different of course. Tommy Broughan was a Labour Party TD opposed to coalition with Fine Gael and who – quite rightly – on 1 December 2011 stood firm on the issue of not extending the ruinous bank guarantee scheme. As a result, he was expelled from Labour and subsequently worked with left independents like Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, Clare Daly, Maureen O’Sullivan, Thomas Pringle, and Mick Wallace, with whom he formed the Independents4Change technical group in the Dáil.

On a whole range of policies around housing and health and especially on the principle of not going into government with Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, Tommy Broughan is far more closely aligned with John Lyons than Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Labour) and Cian O’Callaghan (Social Democrats). A consistent theme of Tommy Broughan’s political career was the need to challenge the two main parties of the right and this has to be reflected in the values of his voters. 

By contrast, Finian McGrath obviously did believe it worthwhile to join with Fine Gael in government. It’s not at all clear, however, that his voters would agree that this was a success. Not only has Finian McGrath to share responsibility for the housing crisis and the failure to reduce hospital waiting lists, but even in his own remit, as Minister for State for Disability Issues, his record cannot be considered a success. The one section in Irish society for whom employment did not rise under the Fine Gael-led government is that of people with disability, two-thirds of whom do not have jobs. In primary and secondary education, while the number of SNA employed has risen, their hours have been reduced, and along with the fact that the number of children in need of support have increased, the situation for children with special needs is worse than at any time since the savage Fine Gael-Labour cuts to their service of 2013.

From the transfer patterns of the 2016 election, it is likely that many of Finian McGrath’s voters would be disappointed in his decision to join a Fine Gael-led government and his record when in cabinet. Only dribbles of transfers came his way when Stephanie Regan and Naoise Ó Muiri of Fine Gael were eliminated and there was no obvious gain either for Finian McGrath from the elimination of Deirdre Heney of Fianna Fail. His former voters certainly seem likely to favour the non-government parties but it’s not clear at this point that they will focus on Labour and the Social Democrats, more likely is that they will spready fairly evenly, also coming in part to John Lyons, Denise Mitchell (Sinn Féin) and David Healy (Green Party). Which brings us to the Greens.

Have the Green Party made a terrible mistake in Dublin Bay North?

Given the surge in support for the Green Party in Dublin, it’s understandable that Paddy Power would make David Healy a 2/9 favourite to win a seat in Dublin Bay North. David Healy is the Green Party’s spokesperson on climate and that is definitely an important issue for people we have been talking to. Our own view is that the Green Party will not deliver a radical enough solution to significantly alter Ireland’s contribution to global warming. Partly, this is because they are ready to go into coalition with Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, despite some internal opposition, but also because their big idea is a heavy carbon tax, which is not going to be a socially just way of tackling climate change. Even so, the Green Party are set to do well as an expression of people’s concern about the state of the planet.

Yet the candidate they have selected for Dublin Bay North is out of line with the official Green Party policy and with voters here in one very important way: he was against the Repeal of the Eighth amendment, voted ‘no’ and expressed support for the ‘no’ position at the time. Dublin Bay North had the second highest turnout in the country for that referendum and with 74.69% yes, was one of the strongest regions for repeal. By contrast with David Healy, John Lyons assisted in the formation of Dublin Bay North’s Repeal the 8th campaign, and, as one person put it on Twitter, was tireless in working for that campaign.

A screenshot of a Tweet (in dark mode) which reads: I know that people are keen to support candidates with a good track record on Repeal. On my first canvass with @DBNRepeal, I was trained in by @CllrJohnLyons. His work on the #repealthe8th campaign was extensive & tireless. Lucky for us he's running in #DublinBayNorth #GE20
One of many tweets highlighting the pro-choice record of Councillor John Lyons of Independent Left, a candidate in the General Election 2020 in Dublin Bay North

Kate Antosik-Parsons of the Dublin Bay North Repeal the 8th Campaign explains why she will be giving her number one vote to Councillor John Lyons.

The Green Party had other potential candidates for the constituency of Dublin Bay North and ought to have been set to take a seat at this point in the campaign. Now, however, there will be hundreds of voters who are unsure about returning an anti-choice candidate, no matter how supportive they are of other Green policies.

What is the likely result in general election 2020 in Dublin Bay North?

The constituency has five seats. With Sinn Féin running a strong campaign nationally and having just the one candidate in Dublin Bay North this time, Denise Mitchell will consolidate her seat. Richard Bruton (Fine Gael) will do well and be elected after the elimination of Catherine Noone. Sean Haughey will probably improve on Richard Bruton’s 2016 performance and take the top spot, not only because of the indication of the national polls, but last time around Avril Power took some of the Fianna Fail vote.

There will then be two seats left and our estimate is that three candidates will be close: John Lyons, David Healy and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, with Cian O’Callaghan a little bit off the pace. The main difficulty Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has is not only the awful record of Labour when in government, which people haven’t forgotten, but the fact that the national party is so anxious to position itself as respectable and responsible, that they have policies to the right of Fianna Fail, who cynically know when to make promises on housing and health that they won’t deliver on.

Whereas Independent Left have no fear of offending developers and those pushing for privatisation of health, or those on high incomes who we would tax for the resources that public services need, Labour are looking anxiously over at these same people in the hope of appeasing them.

For that reason, we are backing ourselves to win a seat and for the Green Party to edge out Labour, despite the fact that David Healy was on the wrong side of the Repeal referendum.

Thomas Daly of Darndale FC, endorsing Councillor John Lyons for Dublin Bay North in election 2020.