Monday 26 September 2016

Election 2016: Ones to watch

Published 07/02/2016 | 02:30

Michael Lowry
Michael Lowry
Jan O'Sullivan
Willie O'Dea
Maurice Quinlivan. Photo: Mark Condren

Tipperary: Like Kerry and Donegal, this is another of the counties reverting to one constituency as it was in the early days of the State.

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And it's another 'constituency of death' with six TDs in the mix for the five seats. With Fianna Fail likely to make a comeback here - it failed to win a seat in either North or South Tipp last time - two of those TDs are likely to lose out. Which two?

It won't be Michael Lowry, that's for certain. Lowry (pictured) will top the poll with a vote that could see him win the unofficial prize of highest vote-getter in the country. The word is that voters from the south of the county, having not had the opportunity to vote for him for the past three decades, are keen as mustard to do so.

The recent negative focus on him won't do anything to harm his chances - it might even help.

There's a definite Fine Gael seat here with junior minister Tom Hayes in the south of the county looking more likely than the party's other TD Noel Coonan from Templemore.

And, given it's a five-seater and Fianna Fail will be 18-24pc nationally, there must be a seat here for the party. It's running three candidates: Jackie Cahill in Thurles, Michael Smith in Roscrea, and Siobhan Ambrose in the south. Smith, son of the former Fianna Fail Cabinet minister of the same name, is seen as the more likely.

Labour deputy leader and environment minister Alan Kelly is in a battle to hold his seat. But he has an uncanny knack of winning elections and, although he clearly has a national profile, he is also a very canny local politician. If Labour is at 6pc, as some polls are putting the party, then he won't make it. But assuming the party is closer to the 10pc mark nationally, he should be okay. Given the picture across the country, Sinn Fein should in theory be in with a shout here.

But, despite it being a five-seater and the party winning a seat in every Tipp ward in the 2014 local elections, Sinn Fein is seen as an outside bet to take a seat. That's due in no small measure to the presence of two other strong independent TDs, Seamus Healy of the left wing Workers Unemployed Action Group and former Fianna Fáil TD Mattie McGrath.

Given that both are based in the south of the county, the feeling is that one of these two independents will have to give way. Healy lost his seat in 2007 but, despite that, McGrath may be the more vulnerable of the two.

Neither man though is likely to garner many votes in the north of the county. And that means, on a good day for Fine Gael, it's possible that Noel Coonan could come through to take a second seat for the party.

Tipperary North used to be regarded as a bellwether constituency and if Coonan comes through, it will be a real sign that things are going very well for the party - and possibly for the coalition - nationally.

5 seats

Prediction:

FG 1 (-1) FF 1 (+1) Lab 1 Ind 2 (-1)

Cork South Central

This one is hugely competitive. A five-seater reduced to four seats with a cabinet minister and possible future leader of Fine Gael; the leader of Fianna Fáil; his likely successor; two chairmen of high-profile Oireachtas Committees and a rising Sinn Féin candidate all in the mix.

Fianna Fáil pulled off a considerable coup in 2011 when, with the ship sinking fast, it still managed to take two seats through Michéal Martin (pictured) and Michael McGrath, holding off Sinn Féin and Deirdre Clune, who would have been in the cabinet if she'd been elected.

It was one of only two constituencies where FF won two seats. But that was when there were five seats at play. With just four seats, things will be even tighter. Against that, the FF ticket is its best in the country. Cork likes to give a big vote to party leaders - Martin topped the poll in 2011 - and he may do again. His finance spokesman Michael McGrath - who is tipped to succeed him as FF leader one day - should also make it. The, ahem, healthy competition that exists between the two should also boost the Fianna Fáil vote.

Agriculture Minister, and one of the possible successors to Enda Kenny as FG leader, Simon Coveney is the safe Fine Gael seat. But can he bring Jerry Buttimer, chairman of the Health Committee with him? Buttimer is a formidable constituency operator which should help insulate him from the likely drop in the FG vote.

Labour's Ciaran Lynch, fresh from his chairing of the banking inquiry, looks in serious trouble. Barring a major late surge in support for Labour, he will lose his seat. The big question is whether Sinn Féin and Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire can make the breakthrough. It's a tough challenge. If SF wins here, it will win big throughout the country.

Similarly, if Fine Gael doesn't hold its two seats here, then it's not going to have a good day nationally.

Ó Laoghaire will benefit from transfers from a variety of left-wing candidates but Buttimer should benefit when Lynch is eliminated. Buttimer may just eek out the fourth seat.

4 seats

Prediction: FG 2

FF 2

Lab 0 (-1)

Limerick City

Another massive challenge for the Labour party. Can Jan O'Sullivan retain the seat she has held in every election since the 1998 by-election caused by the death of her political mentor Jim Kemmy? Or will she suffer the fate of a previous education minister Niamh Breathnach who lost her seat on a bad day for Labour in 1997?

Two seats are as good as gone here. Finance minister Michael Noonan and legendary Fianna Fáil vote-getter Willie O'Dea will be elected, possibly both on the first count.

Noonan took over O'Dea's traditional role as poll-topper last time, securing twice as many first-preference votes. Not even O'Dea was immune to FF's toxicity and haemorrhaging of support in 2011, but the gap between the two will be a lot closer this time around.

That leaves the final two seats between O'Sullivan, Fine Gael's Kieran O'Donnell, Sinn Féin's Maurice Quinlivan and Cian Prendiville of AAA-PBP.

It seems likely that there will be one hard left seat here. Based on the local elections results in the City North ward when both took seats, Quinlivan (2,456 votes) would seem to have the edge on Prendiville (964 votes). But close observers say Prendiville's chances should not be discounted.

The final seat is shaping up to be a battle between O'Donnell and O'Sullivan. The Cabinet minister obviously has the higher profile and is well respected personally, but the anti-Labour sentiment in working class areas will damage her. O'Donnell will also benefit from any Noonan surplus. Assuming it's a reasonable day for Fine Gael nationally, O'Donnell should hang on.

4 seats

Prediction:

FG 2 FF 1 SF 1 (+1)

Labour 0 (-1)

Mayo

The scene of Fine Gael's extraordinary triumph last time when the presence of the Taoiseach-in-waiting on the ticket propelled the party to four out of the five seats. That can't happen this time as the constituency has been reduced to four seats, with John O'Mahony and 7,000 voters from the Ballinrobe area moved to the Galway West constituency. The question is can FG deliver three from four? Up to a few months ago, party strategists had written off this possibility in the wake of a poor local election showing in the county in 2014. But now they're cautiously optimistic it can happen.

Three of the four seats here are already accounted for. Enda Kenny (pictured) and Michael Ring - who got over 30,500 votes between them last time - are safe as houses. That won't diminish the rivalry between the two men to top the poll. Fianna Fáil's highly regarded spokesman on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Dara Calleary will also be returned.

But the fourth seat is going to be a real battle. Ballina-based Michelle Mulherin is the third Fine Gael candidate and, as of now, the front runner to take the final seat.

However, she faces serious competition from Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and, possibly, an independent.

Sinn Féin's Rose Conway-Walsh, from Bellmullet, was an also-ran in 2011 and the party has struggled to get traction here. But she is acknowledged to be a top-class candidate and topped the poll in West Mayo with over 2,000 votes in the local elections. She is definitely in the mix. If Sinn Féin wins here, it will have a big day nationally.

However, her chances have been hampered by the decision of former Independent TD Jerry Cowley, who is also based in West Mayo, to run. Cowley, a GP, is running under the 'no GP, no village' banner - initiated by Clare independent candidate Michael Harty. However, Cowley's chances of repeating his 2002 general election success might be hindered by his association with Labour, having stood for the party in the last general election.

If there is an independent charge, it is more likely to come from Castlebar-based Michael Kilcoyne - if he stands. He's a regular poll topper in local elections and got 4,000 votes in the last general election on a day when the wind was only blowing behind Fine Gael in the constituency.

The other possible contender for that final seat is Fianna Fáil's Lisa Chambers. She only got half Kilcoyne's vote in Castlebar but there were two other FF candidates elected in that ward. And the party's track record in Mayo, where it regularly used to secure four out of six seats in the two Mayo constituencies that existed up to 1997, means she cannot be ruled out. She's a good candidate, but it's a big ask for Fianna Fáil to win a second seat here in the Taoiseach's home constituency.

4 seats  Prediction:  FG 3 (-1)   FF 1

Dublin Bay North

This new constituency made up of the old Dublin North-Central and North-East constituencies might just be the toughest to call in the entire country.

There are five sitting TDs - including two ministers - one independent senator, and both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, currently with no TDs here, in the mix for the seats.

Only jobs minister Richard Bruton can reasonably be said to be safe. But he might not bring in a running mate. Three FG candidates is one too many and the geographic spread of the candidates doesn't seem right. Stephanie Regan came in 13th in the nine-seat Beaumont-Donaghmede ward in the local elections. Naoise Ó Muirí is a former Dublin Lord Mayor but he'll be fishing from the same pond as his near neighbour Bruton. The presence of Renua's Terence Flanagan, elected for FG last time, will also draw votes from his old party, though Flanagan looks a long shot to be re-elected.

Finian McGrath, a TD for North-Central since 2002, also looks likely to win a seat as part of the Independent Alliance. Given Sinn Féin's strength in Dublin and its performance in the local elections in 2014 (it had three-and-a-half quotas with just three candidates in Beaumont-Donaghmede and a strong performance from its Howth-based candidate in Howth-Malahide), it should win a seat here. The only worry would be that the strong number of left candidates could draw votes away from its ticket of Míchéal Mac Donncha and Denise Mitchell. Against that they should benefit from their transfers in later counts.

Based on the 2014 local elections, there should also be a seat for Fianna Fáil this time. Running two candidates might not have been the most desirable outcome - particularly both from the same part of the constituency - while former party senator Averil Power might also draw votes away from the party. However, the Haughey name should be enough to see Seán Haughey back in the Dáil - word has it that he's showing well in private polls.

Labour had three seats out of six in the two constituencies last time but with Tommy Broughan now an Independent and Seán Kenny not running, it's left to junior minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to keep the red flag flying. He cannot be ruled out. But there are big challenges. He has big competition for traditional Labour votes from Tommy Broughan and former Labour councillor Cian O'Callaghan running for the Social Democrats. Sinn Féin and AAA-PBP will also be looking to eat his lunch. In a fight out between Broughan and ó Ríordáin, you'd have to think the former's many years of service will give him the advantage. There's also a strong anti-Labour sentiment evident in working-class parts of the capital.

This constituency is well worth watching for trends nationally. If Fine Gael wins two seats here, then it should get well into the 60s, maybe more, seat wise. But if it doesn't, given the big middle-class vote here, it's hard to see FG and Labour having the numbers to get to 80. If ó Ríordáin holds on, Labour will have a better day than people are expecting. Both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil will be hugely disappointed if they don't take seats and it won't augur well for either if they don't. Independents have big hopes for this constituency - if they win two here, it could be a big election for Independents nationally.

It's going to be an absolute dog fight.

5 Seats

Prediction:

FG 1 (-1)

FF 1 (+1)

SF 1 (+1)

Ind 2 (+1)

Labour 0 (-3)

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