Cahill and Smith fight it out for a seat as FF make comeback in Lowry's heartland
Published 23/02/2016 | 02:30
Never mind the auld opinion polls. If you really want to get the pulse of the nation, head to The Arch Bar on Liberty Square in Thurles. Although a Fianna Fáil bastion in Tipperary, the pub run by Pat and Dee Hayes attracts a wide variety of political opinion.
The chat in the bar at the moment is how big Michael Lowry's vote will be after the Independent TD's name was in the headlines for 10 days.
And the fate of Labour Party deputy leader Alan Kelly is also on the counter.
After canvassing the county for the past three weeks, Lowry is now back in his base for the closing days of the campaign.
For once, he has genuine competition in the town itself from Fianna Fáil's Jackie Cahill. The 53-year-old former president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association is challenging for a seat for Fianna Fáil.
The party wound up with no seat in the old North and South Tipperary constituencies.
Ironically, Cahill's grandfather ran in the general election in 1944, the last time the county was unified for the Dáil.
Cahill and Michael Smith Jnr, the son of former minister Michael Smith, nicknamed 'The Monsignor' due to his clerical tone, now have a tense battle to take a certain seat for the party.
Smith is believed to have the edge, but has to be wary of Cahill's threat.
After running for the first time in the local elections, where he took a seat, Cahill has made a point about being new to politics and voters being fed up with the "same faces" being on the ballot paper: "If not the same faces, then it's the same names."
He leaves it open to interpretation who he is talking about, but doesn't exactly try to deny its targeted at the Smith and Lowry dynasties.
"Michael Lowry has been a TD for 28 years and needs a change. It needs a change."
Cahill says his travels across the sprawling county have highlighted major issues facing many parts of the country.
His farm leadership background means he is highly knowledgeable about everything from milk prices to lending. He says banks will have to hold off on loan repayments while milk prices are so low and he says there is a "crisis" looming in the sector.
"It's dire at the moment. Overdrafts will have to be extended. The market will eventually recover and settle," he says.
Cahill says jobs, health, rural crime and drugs are coming up repeatedly as concerns on the doorsteps. He cites the decline of retail in town centres, the loss of GPs and garda stations.
"The problems in rural Ireland are immense. The recovery just isn't happening down here. People are getting really disillusioned," he says.
Much like the rest of the country, the picture is less than clear in Tipp. Lowry will top the poll. Fianna Fáil will take a seat. So too will Fine Gael. After that it becomes messy. Independent Seamus Healy is favoured to win, but has McGrath to fend off.
McGrath also poses a risk to Kelly.
On a very good day, especially if Independent TD Mattie McGrath went out early in the count, Fianna Fáil might even be on for an unlikely two seats.
The Tipperary count takes place up beyond the far end of the Square in the Presentation Convent.
It'll be busy in The Arch come Saturday night and there's a long count ahead.