Cavan / Monaghan: Heather hopes to cross the divide
CREDIT Union manager Heather Humphreys is keen to promote her financial and business experience, while also pointing out her farming credentials. She is, after all, trying to retain the seat of outgoing Fine Gael TD Seymour Crawford who commanded a massive vote from farmers across Monaghan and Cavan.
And with Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith also on her turf, a forensic understanding of the multiple farming grants, payments and schemes is compulsory if Fine Gael is to finally dismantle the Fianna Fail fortress in Cavan-Monaghan.
Ask the Monaghan-based Fine Gael councillor about her approach to politics and the impression is clear.
The words "commonsense", "honest", "practical" and "business-like" come bounding out.
"I know the issues. I work in the Credit Union. I'm married to a farmer. I see the issues every day. I work and live in the real world, and I'm prepared to roll up my sleeves and get on with the job," she says.
Fine Gael has taken the daring decision to run four candidates in a five-seat constituency, where it has only held one seat since 2002. Fianna Fail has held three of the five seats since 2007 -- owing to Rory O'Hanlon winning automatic re-election as then Ceann Comhairle.
Locally, Fine Gael Senator Joe O'Reilly and Ms Humphreys are deemed serious contenders for seats, while Cavan councillor Peter McVitty and Sean Conlon, son of the late former TD John Conlon, will act as vote sweepers in a bid for a third seat.
And in a constituency where voters often don't cross their Monaghan or Cavan borders to give first preferences to a candidate, Ms Humphreys is perfectly placed to attract both camps. Her home place is in Monaghan, her council area is in Monaghan, but her workplace is in Cootehill in Cavan.
Luckily, Cootehill is considered the centre point of the two dividing counties. "I could be a bridge there," she jokes, before conceding she has yet to undertake any extensive canvassing around Cootehill, where her Credit Union experience provides her with a deep insight into the financial difficulties and anxieties of young and old.
"With financial experience in both personal and business matters, and with a farming background as well, I feel I've the experience for applying business principles to getting this country back on track," she says.
But she's quick to add that she was born and reared on a farm, is married to a farmer and knows exactly what is "going on" with farmers when it comes to their REPs payments, the stage payments of farm waste management grants and area aid.
While jobs and emigration are the dominant doorstep issues, questions about the status and future of Monaghan Hospital continue. The hospital has now been reduced to a day service -- a development with the potential to cause damage for Fianna Fail candidates. Fine Gael is tapping into that local anger by promising to "expand" services at the hospital and provide more standard procedures.
Fianna Fail is running just two sitting TDs, despite holding three seats, with Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith deemed safe, and his running mate Margaret Conlon battling it out for one of the last seats.
For the first time, Sinn Fein's Caoimhghin O Caolain has a running mate, Kathryn Reilly, in a bid to take a second seat. But if Fine Gael's national lead continues to build, it may be on course to win three of the five seats.
Brendan Smith TD
Margaret Conlon TD
Senator Joe O’Reilly
Cllr Heather Humphreys
Cllr Peter McVitty
Cllr Seamus Treanor
? SEATS 5
? ELECTORATE 98,258
? VOTERS PER TD 19,651
Last time out
? Ceann Comhairle Rory O’Hanlon was automatically returned for Fianna Fail.
? Late election entry Margaret Conlon won an extra seat for Fianna Fail after the surprise exit of Independent TD Paudge Connolly.
? Sitting TDs Caoimhghin O Caolain (SF), Seymour Crawford (FG) and Brendan Smith (FF) were also returned.