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Saturday 1 October 2016

It's Cork v Roscommon in Macra president race

Martin Ryan and Declan O'Brien

Published 08/04/2015 | 02:30

Macra na Feirme presidential candidates (l-r): Eamon Cassells (Meath), Paddy Delaney (Laois), Sean Finan (Roscommon) and Michell O'Callaghan (Cork).
Macra na Feirme presidential candidates (l-r): Eamon Cassells (Meath), Paddy Delaney (Laois), Sean Finan (Roscommon) and Michell O'Callaghan (Cork).

The race to become the next Macra na Feirme president has developed into a two-horse race between Roscommon's Sean Finan and Cork native Michelle O'Callaghan.

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Ballots in the election close at 1pm today, by which time the 5,000 eligible Macra members will have voted through their 193 branches. The new president, who takes over from Kieran O'Dowd, is expected to be known before 4pm.

While most observers are reluctant to call the contest, the expectation is that Eamon Cassells (Athboy) and Paddy Delaney (Timahoe) will go out in the first two counts, leaving Sean Finan (Castlerea) and Michelle O'Callaghan (Knockraha) to battle it out.

Cork holds almost 25pc of the votes, and 41pc of the 193 votes nationally are in the Munster region. This should provide a strong base of support for Michelle O'Callaghan, a former national secretary and executive member.

However, holding the southern vote intact is a challenge that has never been achieved in previous Macra elections, even though O'Callaghan is described as very popular within the organisation. Insiders point out that Cork is split into five separate regions and securing support across all the Rebel districts could also prove difficult.

In contrast, the northwest has a history of solidly backing their candidate and Sean Finan appears to have benefitted in this regard. His position as northwest vice-president has secured his support base in the region, while his role as Macra treasurer has ensured a strong profile at national level.

The key for Finan will be to keep in front of the two Leinster candidates in the early rounds.

Eamon Cassells is well established in farming circles in the Royal County and has widespread branch contacts as Macra competition secretary. Meanwhile, Laois's Paddy Delaney, is Leinster vice-president and has strong support in the southern half of the province.

However, seasoned election observers maintain that the two Leinster candidates will split the province's vote and leave the race open for their Connacht and Munster rivals.

Transfers

The accepted wisdom is that Finan should pick up enough transfers from east of the Shannon to just tip the balance but O'Callaghan will have strong support in those branches with a large female membership.

But some Macra sources cautioned against turning it into a straight shootout between Finan and O'Callaghan.

"The contest is too close to call. It is going to go down to the wire, probably in the third count. A candidate surviving elimination by a single vote at the end of the second count could easily go on to win when the distributions are allocated. That's how tight it is," he predicted.

"It's a long time since there have been four candidates so evenly matched competing for the position."

In the race for the regional positions, Gerry Griffin, (Cork) is unopposed for Munster vice-president, while Caroline O'Dowd, (Sligo) wife of outgoing president, Kieran O'Dowd, and Ray Gilmartin, (Leitrim) are competing for the North West position. In Leinster, the candidates for vice-president are Odile Evans (Arklow), Aoife Lanigan (Kilkenny) and Noel Duffy (Offaly).

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