In US politics, they call it the 'October surprise'. It’s a term that refers to a late twist in their elections, where voting takes place in early November.

It is often seen as the decisive moment in the campaign, where the die is cast as to who will prevail.

Did Ireland have its October surprise on Tuesday evening (4 June) on Primetime’s debate involving candidates for the Dublin constituency?

Thus was when Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrews decided that the message he needed to get across to Dublin’s one million voters was of his opposition to the continuation of the nitrates derogation.

I doubt that much more than one per cent of people have any idea what the nitrates directive is or give a scoobies what it is for that matter. It’s likely to have had little impact on the Dublin election.

It may, on the other hand, have proven fatal to Fianna Fáil’s hopes of a second seat in either Midlands North West or South.

The very public campaigns by farmers in recent months around the changes made last summer to the derogation have created awareness that the derogation is important, even vital, to the viability of thousands of farms.


Why did Barry Andrews say it? To quote the Beach Boys, God only knows. One theory I considered, having missed the programme live, was that that perhaps Barry had been delayed canvassing and it was actually his brother, the absurdist comedian David McSavage, who had gone before the cameras and stirred the slurry.

But, no, viewing it back showed it was Barry himself who stated that farmers had been misled by their leadership and ill-advised to invest in dairy expansion in recent years.

It may have been an attempt to pull votes and transfers from his fellow outgoing MEP - the Green Party’s Ciaran Cuffe - from the south Dublin base they share. And maybe it will work for him, it’s hard to say. If an advantage is gained, it’s likely to be a marginal gain.

What is much more predictable is the likely effect will have on the Fianna Fáil candidates in the other constituencies.

Niall Blaney, Lisa Chambers, Barry Cowen, Billy Kelleher and Cynthia Ní Murchú have been working night and day to convince rural and farming communities of their commitment to maintaining the derogation, as part of a wider commitment to the rural economy.

And, suddenly, on the eve of the election, they found themselves being asked about whether Fianna Fáil were backtracking on their commitment to the derogation.

Independent Ireland’s Ciaran Mullooly said he believed that Andrews was reflecting “the actual Fianna Fáil policy – at odds with what they have been telling farmers on the campaign trail”.

IFA president Francie Gorman called for immediate clarification from the party. Both Michael Martin and Charlie McConalogue wasted no time in asserting the party’s position firmly in favour of retaining the derogation. But damage had undoubtedly been done.

If Fianna Fáil fall a couple of thousand votes short of a second seat in Ireland South or Midlands North West, Barry Andrews may be under as much pressure at the next Fianna Fail parliamentary party meeting as his first cousin Ryan Tubridy was when before the arts and culture Oireachtas committee last summer.

Will Simon roll the dice this summer?

I’m at a slight disadvantage writing this next bit, as I do so while voting is taking place and long before a single vote is counted. But all the indications are that Fine Gael will have a good day.

It isn’t an outcome that would have been predicted six months ago, as people seemed tired of them in Government after 13 years at the helm.

And, in reality, their vote is not increasing significantly. But it is exceptionally steady and creeping up, as Fianna Fail and particularly Sinn Féin’s vote slides.

We will know by Sunday night whether the count confirms the trend indicate by polls. But if it does, Simon Harris has a huge question to ponder. Should he take advantage of the momentum presented by June’s poll, and call a summer general election?


This week in 1981, I was answering questions on Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser for the Junior cert. I still remember Brutus’s quote “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”.

Simon Harris seems more pragmatic than the Roman senator, whose decision to assassinate Caesar to save the republic backfired spectacularly.

He will weigh up the benefits of cutting and running versus sticking it out until the spring. He would be well minded to remember that Sinn Féin had a very poor local and European elections five years ago. They only polled 9%, and lost MEPs in South and Dublin.

Yet, only seven months later, they got almost quarter of the votes in the 2020 general election, toping the polls in almost every constituency. That could easily happen again, you get the feeling that quite a large proportion of the voting public is in play. Every bad news story through the summer and autumn will slow Fine Gael’s momentum. It might be time to go for it.

The probability would be that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael would approach the next election as two separate parties standing apart from each other.

That said, the continued assertion by both of them that they don’t see themselves in government with Sinn Féin suggests they will, in a nod-and-wink way, be effectively running on the promise of resuming their coalition post-election. If they do, they may need a new third partner.

It’s hard to see their combined seat count, added to the Green Party’s cohort, being enough to form a government. For this reason, I’d say Simon Harris and indeed Michael Martin will be looking closely at the performance of Independent Ireland in the European and particularly the local elections.

If this new party have county councillors elected all over the country, it leaves them set fair to pick up seats in a general election.

There would potentially be a political coherence to a FF/FG/II government. It would be centre/centre right. I’m not sure that Barry Andrews would find much support among them for his views on the future of the derogation.

Let’s count the votes and see where it leads us.

Keep an eye out over the weekend and into next week fro rolling coverage of the local and European elections, as seats are filled for local government and Brussles representation.