"Which side are you on?" - Damien Tiernan analyses the political landscape in Waterford

Which side are you on? That, I predict, is going to be the most important political question this year. The general election campaign has started – for some it started the day after the February 2020 final result announcements. And since then, the narrative has developed in this way : which side are you on? Are you on the side of a government which doesn’t involve the party which got the biggest share of the popular vote? Or are you on the side of a party which I’m now going to call “Sinn Change”?

Obama hollered for change, change, change – he shouted it from the rooftops, he made (some) people believe it was going to be better, made them believe it was necessary, and made them believe the status quo wasn’t good enough.

That’s effectively what Sinn Change is going to do even more vociferously from now on.

They are going to (try) minimise potential f-ups. They are going to try NOT shout “Up the Ra” at events. They are going to say again and again and again that ‘it’ll be the people who decide’, ‘we believe in the people’, ‘our promises are fully costed’, ‘only our policies can solve the crisis’, and when they murmur ‘our day will come’ they will say it in a hushed and quiet way. They are going to try keep their feet on the ground. They are going to try court the middle-ground, big businesses, opinion leaders. They are going to try convince the squeezed middle that a vote for them is a vote for change, a vote for the better – and no better place will that be pushed than in Waterford.


Combined with national issues such as a United Ireland, they will combine popularism with parochialism in its finest form by saying that a vote for Sinn Change in Waterford is a vote for two seats which will make David Cullinane Minister for Health and will deliver hundreds of millions of euros of investment in the Capital of the South East which hasn’t happened since Martin Cullen’s time. That’s what they are going to say, but will enough people believe them?


The government parties will argue about what HAS been delivered and will try their best to say ‘we’ve done our best, we’re getting there, we’re the steady hands, you can trust us, we’re delivering, stay with us and we’ll get more, and whatever you do, don’t vote for Sinn Change as they are reckless feckers who will ruin the country and who have people who haven’t gone away’. You know.

They’ll focus on job creation, as Senator John Cummins did this week in our series of interviews available in full via podcast on our website. FG are saying they are the party that you can trust to create jobs, which creates wealth, which creates more taxes to create more houses which creates good communities which leads to more jobs. They will say Sinn Change have no track record on

jobs. And Fianna Fail are also pushing the same mantra, combined with a broader appeal to their voter base.


The two main government parties will have lots of shots at the Sinn Change ship, but the Greens will only throw tomatoes as they are nice – too nice – and they might have to get on the Change boat if the tide goes out too far too quickly. Their TD in Waterford, Nice Marc said that this week on this station they will go for the ball, not the man, but personally he has big issues with the Republican past as enunciated by the main opposition party.


So which side are you on? You’ll be asked that on the doorsteps, possibly this year, because even though an election is not due for another 2 years, it could happen soon, especially with Mr Martin stepping aside as Taoiseach in December for Leo.

And we haven’t even mentioned the auld COVID yet! How people’s perceptions of new variants, changes in restrictions and opening of society plays out can’t be predicted – and anyone who pretends to know what will happen is telling you lies. So the COVID matter is the fog which continues to envelop politics in the county and country, rolling down from the Comeraghs engulfing Tramore bay as the Sinn Change ship tries to take victory in the heart of Green-land. Different shades of green!

Marc O’C TD from the Greens says he never voted for Mary Lou’s party “because he has a long memory” and yet hasn’t ruled out going into government with them and was involved in talks with them before getting into bed with FF and FG. But he says he never gave David a second preference, which led to Mr Cullinane pointing out on Facebook (which is not run from Germany) that Marc got elected on the coat-tails of his 20k votes and transfers. Which is true. But that won’t happen again because next time out David will be asking for an old style FF ‘party-only’ voting pact from his party members and supporters – vote 1,2,3 for his party and leave it at that.

And I know from diligent party workers they are specifically targeting the Green seat in Waterford to make it a one-two here. And many in high up in the party privately believe FG are getting their act together and will ‘reclaim their seat they lost to Matt’. But independent TD Matt Shanahan will disagree vehemently. Tall Matt says he hasn’t decided ‘yet’ if he’ll run or not next time out. If he doesn’t, FG’s JC should get in. If he decides to run, it could be tight.

FG’s John Cummins says he’s not focused on the Mssrs Cullinane & Co but revealed this week he’s about to open a second constituency office – this time in Dungarvan – which indicates he will be the main if not the sole FG candidate in the next General Election here (which he believes won’t happen for another three years!).

Fianna Fail may run a second candidate in the west to try help Mary Butler retain her seat but they’ll be happy with just one seat in Waterford next time out, if they can hold that


So let’s look at the facts and try to figure it all out. David Cullinane got 20,569 first preferences, 38% of the vote, and romped home. With an increased population, the quota is going to be maybe 11,000. The Sinn Change plan (from an insider) is to get around 10,000 for David, 5,000 for Cllr Conor McGuinness in Dungarvan and the west, and another 3,500 for their expected first-time candidate Caroline Griffin in the Tramore area. They have been doing a lot of internal polling and if national trends increase, they could get even more. With transfers, they ‘expect’ two seats, with an outside change of a third. Even two would be historic.

Mary Butler of FF got 6,644 first preferences and was elected without reaching the quota, but strong transfers from Eddie Mulligan helped her. The FF strategy is as yet undecided.

Matt Shanahan got nearly 10% of first preferences, 4,990 votes, and was ‘transfer friendly’, getting elected not reaching the quota but picking up nearly 2k votes from David Cullinane, which he can’t rely on next time. Also, has the government done enough to steal Matt’s thunder with the second Cath lab building work now underway and ‘the promise’ of 24/7 to follow?

FG’s two candidate strategy last time failed miserably for the party: 4,592 first prefs for JC, 4,289 for Cllr D Geoghegan, and they fell between two stools, ending up spreadeagled on the bar-room floor as the Green man remained standing at last orders as he was sipping Craft(y) beer.

Marc O’C for 7.43% of first preferences, reflecting the national trend, and picked up transfers from everyone, getting elected on 9,118 by not reaching the quota. The Greens are polling only 3-5% at present. If that is replicated at the next General Election, they are fecked. But what chance of disgruntled FG or Matt voters ‘going Green’?

Lots of unknowns. Labour’s John Pratt for nearly 3,500 first preferences last time. We don’t know who they are running next time, or how many, or from where. They have no declared candidate(s) and will be squeezed by Sinn Change but could they get the fourth seat? If they stay ahead of the Greens, they’ll be in with a shout. People Before Profit and other independents will run also but again will be hit hard by the Cullinane juggernaut.

So here’s my prediction: voters here and across the county are going to be asked which side are they on? Are they on the side of ‘continuing prosperity and we are the ones you can trust’ or are you on the side of ‘change and we can do things better’? Are you on the side of the government parties or are you on the side of a party which has never been in government since the foundation of the State? Are you on Government frigate or the Sinn Change ship?

It’s going to be a titanic battle between Master and Commander - and the first shots have already been fired.

For more thoughts from Damien Tiernan, political or otherwise, click here.