Fine Gael (2), Fianna Fail (1) and Labour(1).
Cork East should prove one of the bell-weathers for the 2016 General Election. Labour’s performance here should indicate whether it will prove a tough election or a catastrophic poll for the smaller Coalition party.
Can Labour defend a seat that the party regard as absolutely vital? It certainly helps the party that its standard-bearer is Sean Sherlock, son of the late former Labour TD Joe Sherlock, who has been one of the most effective junior ministers in the Coalition.
But the waters have been muddied by the defection from Labour of the popular Councillor Noel McCarthy who is now FG’s third candidate. His base is Fermoy and that represents a critical voting area for Mr Sherlock who will require more than the loyalty votes from his Mallow stomping ground to hold on.
How badly will Sinn Fein be affected by the internal rows that resulted in expulsions and resignations over the summer? The impact could be exacerbated by former Sinn Fein official, Councillor Kieran McCarthy, running as an independent. Cork harbour was a crucial area for the party when Sandra McLellan, the Youghal-based retiring TD, took the seat in 2011. Councillor Pat Buckley will need all those votes if he is to defend the Sinn Fein seat.
A further issue will be the impact of Renua in the shape of former Cork East TD Paul Bradford. The respected former Fine Gael official should poll well but will need to defy Renua’s national standings to have any chance of being in the hunt for a Dail berth. His candidacy will be of particular concern to Tom Barry TD amid fears Renua may attract votes that would otherwise be his.
FG’s vote management strategy will ultimately be the key to ensuring their second seat isn’t under threat. Equally important will be just how big a protest vote independents and left wing candidates deliver.
One of the few certainties appears to be the fact that Fianna Fail will regain a seat which, despite the implosion in the party’s popularity in 2011, they only lost in Cork East by a margin of 649 votes when Councillor Kevin O’Keeffe ran instead of his father, former Food Minister Ned O’Keeffe. One of the intriguing sub-plots will be a next-generation rivalry within FF as Barbara Ahern, daughter of former Junior Minister Michael Ahern, challenges Councillor Kevin O’Keeffe, son of another former Junior Minister and veteran FF TD.