Local polls will be nursery for TDs to replace rebels
FINE Gael isn't waiting around for the rebel TDs to come back into the party fold. It is already preparing for the members of the Reform Alliance not being on the ticket at the next general election.
Plans for replacing the Reform Alliance will up a gear with this year's local elections, but this isn't the only route for finding a new candidate. And almost all of the Reform Alliance members were affected by the redrawing of the constituencies ahead of the next general election.
Dublin Bay South:
Fine Gael is clearly planning to go all-out to hold its seat -- preferably at her expense.
Apart from the cosmetic change of name from Dublin South East and the addition of more population, the constituency remains largely unchanged as a four-seater.
Therefore, Fine Gael retains a strong hope of holding its two seats -- even without Ms Creighton -- through sitting TD Eoghan Murphy and a new running mate. The local elections will flush out whether new candidates Kate O'Connell, Samantha Long and Dr Paddy Smyth are up to scratch. If not, there are always other routes. It's not inconceivable that Fine Gael could win two seats and Ms Creighton would still get elected.
No tears are being shed among the local party members at Mr Mathews' exit.
The old Dublin South constituency is being butchered from a five-seater to the new three-seat Dublin Rathdown. Fine Gael elected three TDs in 2011, Alan Shatter, Olivia Mitchell and Mr Mathews. Mr Shatter and Ms Mitchell are expected to run again and, if not, there are ample young replacements in Cllr Neale Richmond and new local election candidate Josepha Madigan.
After successive bad experiences with Mr Mathews and George Lee, there's no appetite for parachuting in another star. The party is guaranteed one seat and will fight hard for a second.
Dublin Bay North:
Often viewed as the most likely to return to the party fold, but Fine Gael strategists are already making plans without him.
Based in the old three-seat Dublin North East, which is being merged with the old Dublin North Central into the new Dublin Bay North five-seat constituency.
Richard Bruton will lead the line for the party and the favourite to join him is Stephanie Regan, a sister of former Fine Gael Senator Eugene Regan, running for Dublin City Council. Former Progressive Democrats candidate and one-time TV ad dentist Keith Redmond, who is seeking to run for Fingal County Council, is an outside option.
Finding a replacement will prove problematic for the party as he is based in the west of the county where no obvious substitute is emerging. Beyond the local elections, party strategists claim to have a few options in mind, but nothing in the public domain.
Fine Gael would have been hard-pressed anyway to hold the three seats it won in 2011 through Andrew Doyle, Simon Harris and Mr Timmins.
The priority will be to have a candidate in the area, just to shore up the party vote, but a win won't be expected and Fine Gael will be happy to come away with two seats, leaving Mr Timmins to fend for himself with a good chance of getting back.
Already out of the party for almost two years, arising from the downgrading of the A&E in the local hospital, Mr Naughten will run as an Independent. The constituency has been re-jigged with the old Roscommon-South Leitrim becoming the new Roscommon-Galway, but still remains a three-seater. Fine Gael TD Frank Feighan will contest in Roscommon, with a running mate on the Galway side, possibly Senator Michael Mullins. Fine Gael expects to hold a seat and Mr Naughten would also have a strong chance.
Fidelma Healy Eames
Cheerio and close and the door on the way out seemed to be the attitude of many in the party to her departure, so no reconciliation is expected.
Fellow abortion legislation defector Brian Walsh is already on the way back.
Galway West has taken in a chunk of Mayo, so the current thinking is the Fine Gael ticket will be sitting TD Sean Kyne in Connemara, Mr Walsh and new Senator Hildegarde Naughton in the city, with John O'Mahony coming in from Mayo, due to the redraw and a cut in the number of seats there.
Due to her family connections, Ms Naughton will also cover Ms Healy Eames' turf out in Oranmore. Fine Gael will be aiming for three seats, which is a big ask.
Cork East or Cork North-Central:
After failing in 2007 to regain the Cork East seat he lost in the 2002 meltdown, he didn't run in the 2011 general election.
His home base moved from his old stomping ground into Cork North-Central last time out, making a general election run unlikely.
Comfortable in the Seanad, he'll secure an outside nomination for the Upper House and probably get re-elected.