IFA election vote looks too tight to call say insiders

Anthony Clinton delivers ballot papers to the IFA Count Centre in the Castleknock Hotel ahead of the count to elect the 16th President of the organsiation. Picture: Finbarr O'Rourke
Anthony Clinton delivers ballot papers to the IFA Count Centre in the Castleknock Hotel ahead of the count to elect the 16th President of the organsiation. Picture: Finbarr O'Rourke
Tim Cullinan

Declan O'Brien and Martin Ryan

Will Paddy Power be paying out this evening on the much-publicised IFA presidential gamble?

Last month the bookmaking giant suspended betting on the IFA presidential race following a flurry of wagers on Tipperary-based candidate Tim Cullinan.

Odds of 4/1 on Cullinan - compared to evens for Angus Woods, and 2/1 on John Coughlan - had enticed some canny punters.

Whether those November wagers make it to the winner's enclosure will finally be decided in the Castleknock Hotel this evening when the votes of IFA members are counted.

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The consensus among seasoned observers of IFA elections is that it is extremely tight.

"All three candidates will be optimistic rather than confident going into the count," said one IFA stalwart.

Most commentators agree that Wicklow drystock farmer Woods is the best communicator of the three and performed very well in the hustings held around the country.

Coughlan has the advantage of being the only dairy farmer in the race. In addition, his base in north Cork has given him a head start in the country's biggest farming county.

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Meanwhile, Cullinan has played the role of 'race radical' to good effect, with promises of shaking things up in the IFA's Bluebell headquarters going down well with many farmers.

Pushed to pick a winner, many neutrals plump for Cullinan.

The pig farmer from Toomevara in north Tipperary has run a very effective canvas.

Indeed, he is expected to lead after the first count - although it is almost certain that a second count will be necessary - aided by a strong turnout in his home county, where between 40pc and 80pc of IFA members are reported to have voted.

Getting Tipperary's membership to vote in such numbers was an impressive feat, particularly in an election where the apathy of ordinary farmers has been reflected in ballots generally averaging between 25pc and 30pc of branch members - and touching as low as 15pc in parts of the west and midlands. This means that the total number of votes is likely to be under 23,000.

Despite the expectation of a strong first-preference vote for Cullinan, opinion is divided on whether he can build up a sufficient lead to stave off a second-count surge from Coughlan or Woods.

The pair is likely to be in a neck-in-neck battle to avoid elimination following the first count.

Coughlan is a highly rated candidate but his campaign has stalled over the last fortnight. He was expected to attract a strong vote from fellow milk suppliers, but reports of low branch turnouts in Mid Cork and West Cork suggest that this support has not materialised in the numbers expected. With ballots also struggling to get above 25pc across much of Munster, as well as in the dairy-lands of south Leinster, Coughlan could be in a battle to stay in the race past the opening count.

Beef protests

Woods is understood to have polled well in the southeast. The current IFA livestock chairman, Woods strongly defended the performance of the association's livestock committee during this year's beef protests.

Whether his impressive outings during the hustings - which included a few bad-tempered clashes with Cullinan - did enough to attract the support of sufficient numbers of farmers is the big question.

Ultimately, the election could come down to who is eliminated after the first count. A strong lead after the first count could see Cullinan home. However, if Woods is eliminated and the Tipperary candidate's lead is tight, then Coughlan will fancy his chances as Cullinan is unlikely to get many transfers from Woods. For Woods to win he will need to stay ahead of Coughlan and hope he is transfer-friendly.

Meanwhile, Cavan's Thomas Cooney is expected to pip Kildare's Brian Rushe in the race for IFA deputy president.

Strong turnout in Tipp makes Cullinan a marginal favourite, but transfers could swing it for Woods or Coughlan on second count

Tim Cullinan Angus WoodsJohn Coughlan

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