Sunday 8 December 2019

Dun Laoghaire

Fine Gael (2), People Before Profit (1).

The presence of Ceann Comhairle Séan Barrett transforms a highly competitive four seat constituency into an electoral brawl.

Mr Barrett’s bye through to the next Dáil leaves just three seats up for grabs in a ward that stretches from North County Wicklow to Booterstown.

Dún Laoghaire voters will say goodbye to outgoing TD and former Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore, who has represented his constituency with greater distinction.

The prospect of Labour holding on to Gilmore’s seat, through the relatively low profile councillor Carrie Smyth, will be a tall order.

But the plot that unfolds in Dún Laoghaire on election day will be shaped heavily by the performance of former Cabinet heavyweight Mary Hanafin.

The Fianna Fáil councillor has already been at the centre of an extraordinary political storyline that is often dubbed ‘The Battle of Blackrock’.

After being elected to Dun Laoghaire council in June 2014 amid much controversy, Ms Hanafin was defeated by his colleague Cormac Devlin by just four votes at a dramatic selection convention in September. Prior to the convention, The party had seriously considered issuing a diktat which would see a female only being selected. Mr Devlin threatened legal action - and no such diktat was issued.

It quickly became apparent that the party would add Ms Hanafin to the ticket - a move that took place just days later.

Senior Fianna Fáil figures believe Hanafin is the party’s best chance of taking a seat in Dún Laoghaire. Devlin has a strong contingent of young members out canvassing on his behalf and, as a full time councillor, he has steadily built up his name in recent years.

The perception that he has had Hanafin imposed on him will also garner sympathy.

But there is the real prospect that both candidates will run completely separate campaigns and leave Fianna Fáil with no seat at all.

In a constituency that has many middle class and well-off pockets, Fine Gael is expected to perform extremely well.

Sitting TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor is set to take a seat and is potentially in line for a junior ministry if she tops the poll.

But the candidate to watch is her running mate councillor Maria Bailey. The councillor of over 10 years is being strongly tipped by senior party figures to go close and could potentially take the third seat on a good day for Fine Gael.

Bailey has the strong support of her father and sitting councillor John Bailey and has appointed her council colleague Marie Baker as her campaign manager.

Ironically, Mitchell O’Connor is probably most concerned about the threat posed by her running mate, rather than Hanafin.

Elsewhere, the high profile left-wing TD Richard Boyd Barrett is all but certain to be returned, and is likely to take the second seat on offer.

If a dark horse is to emerge, you may be best looking towards Sinn Féin’s candidate Shane O’Brien. The councillor is part of the new breed of Sinn Féin politicians to emerge. He is, articulate, passionate and disassociated from the type of baggage that continues to follow more senior members of the party.

Renua is also talking up the chances of its candidate, businessman Frank Cronin. The former Newstalk chief is one of just five of the party’s candidates to speak in favour of liberalising the country’s abortion laws.

Journalist Carol Hunt is representing the Independent alliance, which features prominent TDs such as Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice. Hunt brings with her a refreshing new approach to politics - but will struggle in a race that has just three seats on offer.

Green Party candidate Ossian Smyth is a sitting councillors and personally believes he has a chance at taking a seat. But he is unlikely to feature at the business end.

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