Nominations are closed, ballot papers are being posted and the University of Dublin’s 2022 Seanad by-election is on.
It is a large field of 17 candidates, with representatives of minority communities, family therapists, former ambassadors, Continuity Greens, Dissident Greens, students, barristers and public representatives all throwing their hats into the ring.
Although it seems the 2:30 steeple chase at Leopardstown has come to College Park, the English Premier League or the FA Cup might make better analogies to what will be a two or three horse race for the Senatorial title.
Hugo MacNeill, who lists himself as a ‘CONSULTANT / NON-PROFIT’ (despite having worked for Goldman Sachs), has to be the clear favourite. As MacNeill is also a former rugby (and Trinity soccer) star, he is the lead contender, not least because he polled the fourth highest vote for the three seats last time round.
As his wife and his extended family have considerable connections in the legal field, that should allow him nibble into Trinity’s crucial legal networks, which have been pivotal in all prior elections.
As MacNeill has also successfully involved himself in NGO work, he will be a very large spanner in the campaigns of others, who have targeted those networks that Senator Lynne Ruane has tried to make her own. As MacNeill is also applying his considerable physical energy into the campaign, and is now almost a permanent fixture at rugby matches and Southside Dart stations, he will be the one to beat.
That is bad news for former soldier and disability rights’ campaigner Tom Clonan, who came fifth behind MacNeill last time out. To catch MacNeill this time, Clonan would have to markedly increase his vote and, though Ali O’Shea is targeting a similar electorate, O’Shea fared quite poorly last time out and, realistically, will probably fare badly this time too as he does not have access to Trinity’s key networks, which revolve around the Law Department, the Central Societies Committee and the various NGO types Ruane relies on.
This is not to write any of the long shots off. Though Norris now tops the poll, he only scored 659 votes when he first ran in 1979. And, though Bacik first scored the Senatorial gig in the 2009 election (with 2,794 votes), she scored a more modest 885 votes when she first ran in 1997. She had to wait 12 full years for Senator Mary Henry to saddle up and exit stage left to make room for her.
We cannot, then, dismiss the no-hopers as joke candidates. Though Eoin The Pope O’Mahony, for example, only scored 65 votes in the 1944 election, I doubt he lost any sleep over it.
Nor will the likes of Hazel Chu (Continuity Greens), Patricia McKenna (Real Greens), four students and sundry others, who comprise the rest of the field as they just don’t have the necessary networks. Although Chu has read a children’s fairy story with some oblique Harry Potter type mention of Trinity, that will not compensate for her lack of Trinity contacts.
Although Patricia McKenna has had a prominent political role, and would probably deserve any genuine radical votes out there (as Ray Bassett would argue, so should he), she will most likely stumble because of her lack of Trinity contacts and key networks.
The 2019 Fingal by-election, occasioned by the elevation of Clare Daly to the MEP gig, shows that such reasoning is not failsafe.
The Greens were runaway victors there, with Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour putting in semi-respectable shows, with Dean Mulligan, Sinn Féin, and Stocker’s Social Democrats falling far behind. Mulligan’s non-performance is particularly noteworthy as he was Daly’s anointed successor but could not replicate her big personal vote.
Much the same might apply here. Ruane can hardly lend her vote out, and as Norris seems to be in bad health (and as MacNeill has praised him on the hustings), the only blocks that might upset the MacNeill apple cart are former Senator Shane Ross’ Unionists, Bacik’s legal eagles, and Norris’ Central Societies Committee networks.
However, as I would expect MacNeill to hold his own in all those tussles, and to have a big personal vote as well, Trinity’s third seat is his to lose.