Brendan Kenneally has already admitted it. Gary Wyse too. Martin Cullen’s departure from political life leaves Fianna Fáil facing a massive battle to hold onto its second Dáil seat in Waterford.
It’s already been suggested that the by-election in Waterford may not be held until November (in tandem with the Referendum on Children’s Rights), but history indicates that Fianna Fáil will not retain the seat.
After all, no sitting government has won a by-election since 1982 and with their polling figures appallingly low, something remarkable needs to happen if the seat is to remain on the Government side of the house.
The past two local elections in Waterford indicate the problem facing Fianna Fáil. In both plebiscites, the party emerged with just a single City Council seat.
Things went slightly better for them in County Council terms, winning five seats last summer, but, as has been the case with Gary Wyse, the FF contingent’s focus has been purely local. That’s the nature of the job.
Former TD Ollie Wilkinson, who failed to win a local election seat in the Dungarvan area last June (taking 510 first preferences), would probably relish a shot at regaining the seat.
But, as last June’s result indicated, it appears that Wilkinson’s time in Leinster House has come and gone.
The party’s biggest vote winner in Waterford city and county last year was James Tobin, who took 1,023 votes in the Lismore constituency.
But, with respect to Councillors Hogan and Wyse, neither is known to voters at the opposite end of the county and therein lies Fianna Fáil’s problem.
The nature of politics means it can take years of toil at local level to establish a profile beyond your voting area.
Regarding Fianna Fáil’s half dozen Councillors, only Tramore’s Pat Daly (with the greatest of respect to his colleagues) carries a wider political profile beyond his constituency boundary.
But that alone is unlikely to be see Cllr Daly hoisted shoulder high in the Butler Centre this winter.
Even the profile that Ballyduff Upper’s John O’Leary has established through his work with Waterford GAA cannot be relied upon to convert into votes, which means a ‘parachute’ candidate cannot be ruled out.
The 11,000 first preference votes which Martin Cullen won at the 2007 general election were, taking the local elections before and after into account, clearly not all Fianna Fáil votes as such.
Many voted for Cullen, who himself retained votes from his days with the Progressive Democrats, on the basis that he was sitting at the cabinet table.
Waterford, and indeed the region, had a voice where it mattered most and voters wished to see that status maintained – and so it proved.
His eight years as a senior minister have been credited with shoehorning up to €2 billion for the south-east: even his political foes will acknowledge he never kept beating the drum for Waterford within Government.
Throwing the imminent re-shuffle into the mix, the south east (and Limerick of course) will be looking to have its voice retained by Brian Cowen.
So don’t rule out the ascension of New Ross-based Deputy Sean Connick to ministerial ranks such is the impression he has made within the party since entering the Dáil.
Back to Waterford. Talk in the city suggests that FF feelers have already been hurled in Cllr Wyse’s direction to throw his name into the by-election hat, but it’s surely too early for the O’Connell Street businessman to consider a Dáil run.
Credibility is a huge factor in politics. Gary Wyse was first elected to public life just nine months ago and is still, by his own admission, learning the ropes.
Affable, good company and, given his line of work, clearly a people person, it’s difficult to see what Cllr Wyse would gain from running a few months from now.
A by-election campaign would also impede getting through the all-important nitty-gritty work which a Councillor depends upon when it comes to getting re-elected.
And given his standalone position, Fianna Fáil would be unwise to risk its sole seat at City Hall given the present political climate.
Legacies, whether you like them or not, tend to have vote pulling power. In that respect, Fianna Fáil has no heir apparent to Martin Cullen, which would appear to pave the way for another Waterford political legacy to take centre stage.
It may be coming a couple of years earlier than expected, but the by-election money is on Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey, the ‘non-TD’ in Waterford with the most substantial city and county profile.
Fianna Fáil’s difficulty is clearly the 41-year-old Portlaw man’s opportunity.