The threat of a snap general election has forced Limerick’s political parties to spring into action. The recent controversy surrounding Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has created serious concerns that an election could take place before Christmas. Local politicians and party members moved quickly to organise their campaigns.
Fine Gael acted swiftly to choose general election candidates. A selection convention was arranged over the weekend and two candidates were chosen on Monday, 27 November. FG was not expecting to formally choose candidates so soon after Michael Noonan announced his retirement. Senator Maria Byrne and Senator Kieran O’Donnell are the party’s choice, as was widely expected. O’Donnell represented Limerick city in the Dáil until the 2016 election and Byrne was endorsed by Noonan, the former finance minister and political ‘big beast,’ who remains popular in the party.
The main opposition party, Fianna Fáil, is expected to hold its selection convention later this week, though there is little doubt veteran TD Willie O’Dea will top the ticket. Though O’Dea was the only FF candidate in this constituency in 2016, the party is expected to nominate a running mate in an attempt to win two seats. Several councillors have been mentioned as possible candidates, but nothing has been confirmed.
Labour will likely re-nominate Jan O’Sullivan. The former Minister for Education came very close to losing her seat at the last election. Despite suggestions that she might step down, a snap election make this highly unlikely. It is doubtful that Labour would run a second candidate.
Sinn Féin’s Maurice Quinlivan will seek re-election but it may too soon for the party to run a second candidate. Quinlivan won fewer first preference votes that Noonan and O’Dea in 2016 and may not want to risk dividing his vote.
The smaller political parties may be the most prepared for a Christmas election. Solidarity and the Social Democrats polled well last time, with Solidarity’s Cian Prendiville losing out on a seat by just 278 votes.
The former Anti-Austerity Alliance had organised an ‘emergency activist meeting’ at the time of going to print. Prendiville and his supporters are quietly hopeful that they can win a seat this time out. Solidarity hopes to capitalise on their support for repealing the Eighth Amendment and general dissatisfaction with establishment parties.
Social Democrats’ chair Sarah Jane Hennelly was selected as their candidate earlier this year. Hennelly did not perform as well as Prendiville but her profile has increased significantly over the past year. The Social Democrats will also position themselves as outside the established parties.
At the time of writing, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were still attempting to solve the political impasse, while the likelihood of a Christmas election was still high. Even if an election is avoided, the threat of one has forced Limerick’s parties to show their hand before many of them were ready. Battle lines for the next election have already been drawn.