Election Special: Voters will trounce Justin Barrett and Dolores Cahill. But that’s not the point.

Election Special: Voters will trounce Justin Barrett and Dolores Cahill. But that’s not the point.

There’s just over a week until voters in Dublin Bay South (DBS) go to the polls in an unexpected by-election. Conspiracy theorists and members of far-right parties are running in the constituency which is a stronghold  for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party. Just over seven days left and the National Party leader Justin Barrett, its candidate in the election, has only been seen pounding the pavement in the last 24 hours. He’s been, as the cliché goes, conspicuous by his absence.

His links to German neo-Nazis as well as his wish for Ireland to come under the thumb of a Catholic-aligned dictator likely don’t make him welcome on the doorsteps of many homes in South Dublin. Also not much of a vote-getter is a member of his party recently pleading guilty to assaulting LGBTQIA+ activist Izzy Kamikaze.

Dolores Cahill, formerly of the Irish Freedom Party (IFP) and now an independent, is also contesting the seat vacated by Eoghan Murphy. Cahill has become the face of the COVID conspiracy movement. At rallies across Ireland and Europe she’s made outlandish claims about the virus — like declaring it’s only “seasonal” — and spread various conspiracies that the COVID lockdowns are part of a process of introducing a dictatorship. 

Cahill, who is a professor in University College Dublin (UCD) , is perhaps more palatable to the electorate than Barrett. Although compared to the bookies’ favourites at the time of writing, James Geoghegan of Fine Gael and Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan, Cahill has none of the clout her professional title grants her amongst her more impressionable supporters.

To get to the point: Neither Barrett or Cahill will make much of an impact. There is no voting pact that we know of and transfers to either candidate from other parties will likely be few or completely non-existent. 

Opportunism

So, what’s the point in them even contesting the election then? As we previously argued, the point is to test the limits of the public. It’s about seeing how far rhetoric can be pushed and the line beyond which votes or potential votes are lost. And no matter the outcome, win or lose, Barrett, Cahill, and their respective political machines will have learned from the experience and use it in future elections.

Name and brand recognition play a part in this. Barrett and Cahill want to be remembered by the electorate. It’s not about success now. How could it be when the latest polling has Barrett at 1% with Cahill not even figuring in the equation? Instead, it’s about potential triumph in the future. And that involves planting seeds today they hope will come to fruition over the coming months and years. 

This also explains why both of them and their parties latched on to the issue of the pandemic and the lockdown legislation the government introduced to keep the virus in check. By presenting a friendly face and claiming to have answers they can attract new followers. Or, at the very least, it’ll ensure they’re known to those who have legitimate concerns about the government and how it’s handled the last 15 months.

What lies ahead

Beyond this they have nothing worthwhile to offer people. All they have are conspiracy theories about asylum seekers, COVID-19, the government, and the usual talking points we see echoed across the extremist landscape elsewhere. They like to portray themselves as outliers who are the only ones willing to stand up to some nefarious yet incorporeal power. 

Ireland’s history of successful left-wing and progressive activism is not something they’re keen to remind others of. In Barrett’s case these successes are anathema to his views and those of his party. For Cahill it’s evidence that she’s not the campaigning trailblazer her followers believe her to be. Failing in the election is a given and both know this. Neither is delusional enough to believe otherwise. 

Barrett or Cahill also won’t disappear just because of this failure. They will continue on in the hopes of achieving some gains in the near future. Also lingering on will be the effects of them running in the election in the first place. Younger, more well-groomed extremists are coming down the line; the kind that are more palatable to a wider section of the electorate. 

Put simply, it means we shouldn’t turn our attention away from DBS in the coming days and in the aftermath of the election. Because what happens in the south of Dublin in the next week will inform far-right tactics for the months and years ahead. And considering a general election within the next two years is very much a possibility, that means lessons learned in DBS will be put into practice on a national level. We’d do well to pay attention.

Featured image via Pexels

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