independent

Sunday 25 September 2016

Several ministers in real danger of losing their seats

Published 31/01/2016 | 02:30

BACK TO THE WALL: Joan Burton has a struggle on her hands to hold her seat in Dublin West. Photo: Steve Humphreys
BACK TO THE WALL: Joan Burton has a struggle on her hands to hold her seat in Dublin West. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Nerves begin to fray as the realities of the election kick in and even the big guns are getting jittery, writes Shane Coleman.

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Holding ministerial office usually insulated senior politicians from the vagaries of the ballot box. There were exceptions of course - a cabinet minister here or there losing out, like Niamh Breathnach in 1997 or Mary O'Rourke five years later. The election of 1977 was seen as extraordinary when three ministers, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Paddy Cooney and Justin Keating lost their seats as part of the National Coalition's hammering.

But that was before 2011, when ministers were toppled like skittles.

Fifteen of them lost their seats, including five from the cabinet. It might even have been more had some high-profile figures not opted to retire ahead of the election.

The circumstances were exceptional, but suddenly being a minister didn't make election day quite so secure.

The casualty rate, come the end of February, won't match 2011 levels. But as many as 13 (unlucky for some) figures from the current government are in danger of joining the 'select' club of ministers who have been rejected by the electorate.

The 'at risk' list includes five from the Cabinet. Labour Party leader Joan Burton is in danger of following the fate of another Tanaiste, Mary Coughlan, by losing out.

She is in a battle for the final two seats, along with Fianna Fail's Jack Chambers and Ruth Coppinger of AAA-PBP in Dublin West. It is too close to call for Burton.

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan's chances in Limerick look even more remote. Sinn Fein's Maurice Quinlivan seems poised to take a seat here and, with Michael Noonan and Willie O'Dea safe, it is between her and FG's Kieran O'Donnell for the final seat. The odds favour O'Donnell.

Communications Minister Alex White is also likely to be locked in a battle with Fine Gael for the final slot in three-seat Dublin Rathdown. Shane Ross is a shoe-in and Alan Shatter should be okay, leaving White in a fight with Josepha Madigan. Given that Madigan may be fishing from the same pool as Ross and Shatter for votes, White may just hang on. But it is tight.

The same holds for the ever-controversial Environment Minister Alan Kelly, who is under serious pressure in the new Tipperary constituency.

Kelly has never lost an election and is a formidable local operator. He's far from safe, but might just make it.

The only Fine Gael cabinet minister looking vulnerable is Paschal Donohoe. A rising star in the party, Donohoe is tipped as a successor to Michael Noonan as Finance Minister.

But he has lost a big chunk of his vote, with Dublin Central being reduced to a three-seater and Glasnevin, moving into Dublin North-West. The party is hopeful he'll be okay - and he probably will be - but Donohoe won't be relaxing until elected.

Of the junior ministers, Kathleen Lynch in Cork North Central and Ann Phelan in Carlow-Kilkenny look in dire trouble, from which it's hard to see them escaping.

The odds are also against Aodhan O Riordain in arguably the most competitive constituency in the country, Dublin Bay North, while Sean Sherlock looks a 50-50 shot in Cork East. Ged Nash in Louth is also in a dog fight. He is cautiously tipped to come through, but it won't be a shock if he doesn't.

It would be a shock for many if any of Fine Gael's trio Joe McHugh (Donegal), Dara Murphy (Cork North Central) and Paudie Coffey (Waterford) fall, but none of the three is safe.

There'll only be one FG seat in Donegal and if Paddy Harte, recently added to the ticket, takes off, McHugh will be under pressure.

Some internal polls show Dara Murphy struggling a little, while Fianna Fail has high hopes that Mary Butler can edge out her neighbour Coffey in Waterford.

Shane Coleman presents the Sunday Show on Newstalk.com at 10am.

Sunday Independent

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