Never mind opinion polls, the real test of the public mood looms on June 7


A few weeks back I dismissed Fine Gael’s leadership change and reset as a “scramble for relevance.” Last week’s Sunday Independent/Ireland Thinks poll would suggest I was being too complimentary. It showed a 2-point drop for Fine Gael, and a 3-point increase for Sinn Féin.

Fine Gael’s reset strategy is not working. Nor will it. Not that my own party is fairing any better. Once again, an opinion poll points to Fianna Fáil’s support being well below where it was back in February 2020. We lost six TDs in that election.

As regular readers will know, I prefer to focus on policies and issues rather than analyse opinion polls. This is not to dismiss national opinion polls. It is simply because these polls, by their nature, simply cannot account for local and personal factors.

Many of my most fervent voters would not necessarily self-identify as Fianna Fáil. This is true for many other T.D.s too. So, national polls can only give us a sense of direction or momentum.

For a real picture of the public political mood, you need an election and we have now just over three weeks away from the biggest real test of political opinion in four years: the Local and European elections.

Actually, here in Limerick we also have the unbridled delight of a third vote, the contest for the first directly elected mayor of Limerick, where my colleague Dee Ryan is a candidate.

The June elections will be real test of public mood. And while my focus will be on re-electing our team of hard working sitting local councillors and getting some new ones elected too, I know well that national issues will play as big a part in deciding the results, as local ones.

As I have discussed here many times, there are many areas where I think the government has not done enough. Yes, the government is hitting its housing targets and enabling more people to get a foot on the property ladder, but there are low points too. Some, self-inflicted.

I have spoken many times here about the nationwide law and order crisis. I have offered some ideas on how to address the recruitment and retention crisis in An Garda Síochana – and our Defence Forces. Some of these ideas have been acted upon, albeit slowly.

Here in Limerick city, we have the ongoing saga of emergency care at Limerick University Hospital. Nationally, we have the unending sense of ill-judged emergency responses to the migration crisis. I could add more to the list of issues where the government seems to be perpetually on the back foot, but the opposition parties do that, week in and week out.

But reciting the problems is easy. Offering workable solutions is hard. Saying we offer change is a strong message in politics, but it’s not all that worthwhile when the change on offer is only a change from the positions those same opposition parties were offering a few short months ago.

Four weeks out from voting, I am hopeful that my party will do better than polls suggest. But don’t break out the bunting. It is not a high bar to cross.

Campaigns matter. Candidates canvass because it works. Though political pundits may think voters are daily pondering the pros and cons of this or that party, experienced public reps know that most folks only decide where to put their 1, 2 or 3… much closer to polling day.

People like to see their options before deciding. That includes whether you are running for a particular or as an independent. But it also extends to personally knowing the candidates and knowing their local service and work.

So, given the strong record and enthusiasm of our candidates, our expectations should not be set low. The ambition must be to return not just as the biggest party in local government but to also increase our number of MEPs. With the right message and direction, this is achievable.
But bearing in mind that the campaign is only starting in earnest this week, let me nail one bit of vapid commentary early on. Whatever results come out of June 7th they will not be a midterm assessment. There is nothing midterm about this election. At most the next general election is 9 months away. As I explained a few weeks ago, I believe it is much closer, perhaps around the time the clocks go back.

These results will matter. They may not be a definitive predictor of who will or will not form the government, but they will be the best indicator of it we will see before the general election posters start appearing later this year.


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