Sunday 23 October 2016

Meath East

Fine Gael 2, Fianna Fail 1.

Published 18/01/2016 | 11:43

THE big question in Meath East is will outspoken Fianna Fail Senator Thomas Byrne be the 'comeback kid' and regain the seat he lost during the armageddon that hit his party in 2011.

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The father-of-three was a massive casualty from the ranks of the so-called ‘Ógra Generation’ of ambitious young TDs in the party at the time.

The 38-year-old later won a seat in the Seanad and with an outspoken manner has maintained a high profile over the last five years.

Byrne nearly made a comeback in the March 2013 by-election were he secured a third of the vote, not far behind winner Helen McEntee’s 38.5pc.

An unsuccessful run for Europe in 2014 in the sprawling Midlands-North-west constituency notwithstanding, his by-election showing suggests he should be confident of taking one of the three seats up for grabs. 

The old five-seat Meath constituency was split into two three-seaters ahead of the 2007 general election.

It includes large rural areas where issues like pylons have been raised and commuter towns like Dunshaughlin and Dunboyne.

The electorate stands at just under 65,000.

Turn-out in 2011 was 66.4pc but that dropped to less than 40pc in the by-election.

The constituency is supposedly home to the mythical ‘Ashbourne Annie’ voter – stay-at-home mums living in Dublin’s commuter belt – being targeted by Labour Party strategists.

Sitting Labour TD Dominic Hannigan didn’t appreciate the use of one of his local towns by what he called “overpaid media gurus” in the naming of the fictional voter.

“It shows insensitivity to people who are having it tough,” he said in a an interview the the Sunday Independent.

Hannigan topped the poll in 2011, riding on a wave of support for Labour by an electorate out to punish Fianna Fail for the economic crash.

However, in a constituency where Labour came a dismal fifth in the more recent by-election, he faces a battle to keep his seat this time around as the party struggles to lift its poll numbers.

In theory Fine Gael have the area divvied up between Rathoath-based TD Regina Doherty in the south and Helen McEntee who’s from Castletown - further north in the constituency - though it may not work that way in practice.

Mum-of-four Doherty has built a profile party through her television appearances batting for her party on shows like Tonight with Vincent Browne.

McEntee (29), is the second youngest TD in the Dail. She won her seat in in by-election that followed the tragic death of her father, Minister of State Shane McEntee in December 2012.

Should Fianna Fail take back a seat, Doherty and McEntee will be hoping they can squeeze out the Labour candidate to stay in Leinster House.

That's an outcome that’s not beyond the bounds of possibility by any means given the traditional dominance of the civil war parties in Meath.

However, they also face a credible bid for a seat by Sinn Fein's Darren O'Rourke.

A sitting councillor in the Ashbourne area, he was elected on the first count in the 2014 local elections.

He previously contested the 2013 by-election taking more than 3,100 first preferences. His party came third overall with 13pc support. Depending on how the transfers of left wing voters get distributed, Or'Rourke is in with a chance of taking a seat.

Elswhere Indpendent Sharon Keogan is a councillor in the Laytown-Bettystown area and runs a restaurant. She got more than 1,100 first preferences in the 2011 general election and a similar vote saw her take her secure her place in the council in 2014.

Aisling O'Neill of the Social Democrats failed to take as seat on Meath County Council as an Independent in the most recent local election. A nurse by profession she'll be hoping her attachment to the new party will increase her vote.

Ben Gilroy of Direct Democracy Ireland got more than 1,500 first preferences in 2013 while the Green Party's Sean Ó Buachalla came sixth overall with 423 votes.

Ó Buachalla will be hoping to do better in 2016 having previously exceeded 1,300 first preferences in 2007.

Another candidate that also ran in 2013 is Seamus McDonagh of the Workers' Party.

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