Dr Jennifer Kavanagh is a law lecturer at WIT
THE election that everyone has waited for since Leo Varadkar became Taoiseach in 2017 is finally upon us. The problems of housing and health will dominate this election, and this is true of Waterford where the government’s approach to the particular issues in this constituency will be focused on. Many of these issues have been long running, such as the Hospital, especially the issue of cardiac services, University Status for WIT and the economic inequality of the South Eastern region as documented by the South East Network for Economic & Social Research based in WIT. These issues mainly affect the Fine Gael candidates as their party has been in power since 2011, but they are not the only representatives that we’ve had in the Dáil and their lobbying for Waterford over their time in office will also come under the spotlight.
On a national level, Fine Gael have struggled to put in any working solutions to the homelessness crisis during their time in government. Health effectively brought an end to the current government as Fine Gael knew they would be defeated in a confidence motion on health on February 5, so they opted to go to the country instead. Fianna Fáil isn’t making gains either as the memory of the financial crash still lingers. As they supported the minority Fine Gael government, people are struggling to see the difference between both.
Fianna Fáil could have pulled their support for the government a lot earlier, but they stayed until there was certainty around Brexit. However, Brexit doesn’t seem to matter to the average person worried about their pension.
Sinn Fein are capitalising on the recent history of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and seem to be gaining popularity as they’ve never had a stint in government to get bogged down by these issues. A lot of people want a change from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and seem to be of the opinion that a new party in control of government couldn’t really be any worse than those that have gone before.
So, where does Waterford fit in with the national picture? Traditionally, whoever holds the balance of power in Waterford with its four seats will have the balance of power nationally. It is the only city and county constituency in the country so it’s almost a snapshot of the national picture.
Sinn Fein had a poor Local and EU election nationally but are gaining in support in polling. There’s also a solid personal vote behind David Cullinane, which should see him safely returned. Fianna Fáil should hold on to one seat in Waterford, Mary Butler seems the most likely unless her position in the Repeal referendum comes back to haunt her. Eddie Mulligan is also running for Fianna Fáil but recent stories regarding his disqualification as a director may have an impact on his chances. Looking at trends from the Local and EU elections, the Greens had a very good result in May, and this could translate to Marc O Cathasaigh being in contention for a seat.
Fine Gael are the great unknown for this election. With both John Deasy and Paudie Coffey out, the established faces are gone. Fine Gael only managed to get both candidates elected in the 2011 general election. With the tide moving out from Fine Gael in the 2016 election, they only managed to get Deasy elected. Now they are running John Cummins and Damien Geoghegan from opposite ends of the constituency. Depending on their vote management and anti-government sentiment, they might be able to hold the seat. John Pratt for Labour will probably be in the running for the final seat depending on how vote transfers work out for him.
Both Bernadette Phillips and Matt Shanahan are running as independents on the issue of the Cardiac Services. They may end up splitting the protest vote on this issue. But where their transfers go will determine where the final seat in the constituency goes. Una Dunphy is again running for Solidarity/People Before Profit and developed a profile from both union activity and campaigning in the Repeal referendum but had a poor showing in the local elections with 4% of the vote in Tramore/Waterford City West. So another person to watch for transfers. Ronan Cleary is also running for Aontu.
When it comes to government formation when all the votes have been counted, neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael officially seem to have any appetite for a coalition government with Sinn Fein or even with each other. If they wish to look to the other parties to form a coalition, both Labour and the Green Party will require a vote of their members to do this. Considering the near extinction of the Labour Party following their coalition with Fine Gael in 2011, it wouldn’t be surprising if either party’s membership decided this wasn’t the course for them. We could have a confidence and supply arrangement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael like the last time but considering how bruising both parties have been to each other during the campaign they may not be able to be on friendly terms again in the national interest. Therefore, we could even see another general election before the year is out.