The battle lines were drawn early in the Dublin Bay South by-election campaign, but a surprise challenger has flipped the script.
Thursday’s poll was billed as a straight shoot-out between Fine Gael’s James Geoghegan and Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan, but the odds have drastically shortened on Labour’s Ivana Bacik.
The constituency that gave us the Rumble in Ranelagh now looks to produce the Battle of the Glass Bottle site, as housing dominates the agenda.
For Ms Bacik, a long time senator, barrister and criminal law lecturer, the long-delayed housing development in Ringsend is emblematic of why voters in a traditionally safe Fine Gael seat have turned to her.
She told the PA news agency: “When we look back at the results of the February 2020 general election, you might say that’s why the outgoing government didn’t do well, because they were perceived as having failed to deliver.
“The big example of that is the Irish Glass Bottle site in Poolbeg, where we were supposed to see 3,500 homes built and we haven’t seen one built there yet.
“It should have been delivered back in 2016. It was ready to go. In 2019, the deal fell through. Nama had hoped to sell to the Dublin City Council so it would have remained in public ownership.
“It was a total wasted opportunity. Government took its eye of the ball.”
Ms Bacik said local housing actions groups have “huge concerns” that the promised 900 social and affordable homes at the site will not be delivered.
She was speaking the morning after an Irish Times poll placed her second at 22% in the race, behind James Geoghegan (27%) and well ahead of Lynn Boylan (13%).
A vote-left, transfer-left policy, as advocated by Green party candidate Claire Byrne, could help her over the line.
She has consistently rejected the narrative of a race between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein.
“That wasn’t reflected in what we were hearing, which is that people wanted a candidate who would actually address the issues that they were confronting in their everyday lives. The poll reflects that,” she said.
Often characterised by its leafy suburbs and affluent residents, Dublin Bay South is in reality much more diverse, where 44% are renters.
Family homes filled with adult children have helped Ms Bacik’s message that Government policy on housing has failed and a change of approach is needed.
Not so, says Mr Geoghegan, a 36-year-old barrister who comes from a long line of judges and TDs.
Responding to the Irish Times poll, he quipped: “Who wants a coronation?”
Mr Geoghegan disputed some of the poll findings, noting a 4.5% margin of error, and said he is polling more than 30% of the vote.
He denied suggestions that Fine Gael has been blindsided by the emergence of the Labour candidate.
“We’re vigilant to any candidate of any of the major parties that poses a threat,” he said.
“At the end of the day, I’m just trying to put forward a message that I’ll be a real influence in government, because I will be as a Fine Gael TD.”
At his campaign launch, Mr Geoghegan pitched himself as the candidate for the locked-out generation, the man to tackle the housing crisis, pledging that under Fine Gael, house prices and rents will come down within two years.
He claimed the Glass Bottle site is a success rather than a failure, although he conceded there have been “delays”.
He said: “What people want to know is, are new homes going to be delivered in this city? And what I speak to is my own record on Dublin City Council where I voted in favour of 3,000 homes.
“That hasn’t been the same of any other party who’s in this race, including the Labour Party, who were part of a coalition with Sinn Fein, to object to 1,000 new homes in Santry, in the Oscar Traynor Road.
“I’d then point to, in this constituency, the Glass Bottle site, where 600 affordable purchase homes combined with 300 social homes are now going to be delivered at that site.”
He said a combination of public and private investment is the only way to build more homes, which will drive down prices once they are on the market.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, but it is going to happen over the next two to three years,” he said.
“You are going to see a greater delivery of new homes in Dublin City, there’s just no question about that. And you’re going to increase the number of people who can afford an affordable home.
“There’s a lot of these projects now, publicly led projects that are going to deliver affordable homes in our city. They’re the key access points for people on average industrial wage to own their own home.”
Ms Boylan said there is still all to play for in the by-election.
She is Sinn Fein’s spokeswoman on climate justice and is the Seanad spokeswoman for communications, climate action and environment, social protection and employment affairs. She was elected to the Seanad last year.
The 44-year-old activist is known for her work with the families of the Stardust tragedy in 1981.
“I think if there was a Sinn Fein TD elected in this by-election, I think that would send an earthquake through the Government,” she said.
“If people want to do that, if they want to send that really strong message, then the best way to do that, I would say, is to vote for myself.
“We’ve always known this was a Fine Gael stronghold, that it would be a David and Goliath battle for us to take a seat in a by-election.
“So, it’s all to play for still, we’re under no illusions that it is a Fine Gael seat to lose.”
Out of the 15 candidates, nine are women fighting for a seat in a constituency held only by men.
Ms Boylan said it sends a positive message to see a ballot sheet with so many women.
“I’m all for more women getting involved in politics because we do need a much greater diversity in our parliament,” she added.
Fianna Fail’s Deirdre Conroy looks an outside bet, polling on 10%, a point behind Ms Byrne.
She was the woman at the centre of the D vs Ireland case, when she took a case to the European Court of Human Rights in 2002, after she had been denied an abortion in Ireland.
Ms Conroy has also pledged to tackle the housing crisis, but faced criticism in recent weeks over comments she made years ago about a tenant in her home.
In a blog she criticised the tenant for cooking in her kitchen, but Ms Conroy said it was written as a “joke”.
The other candidates in Dublin Bay South are Justin Barrett (National Party), Sarah Durcan (Social Democrats), Jacqui Gilbourne (Renua), Brigid Purcell (People Before Profit), Mairead Toibin (Aontu) and independents Dolores Cahill, Peter Dooley, Mannix Flynn, John Keigher and Colm O’Keefe.