Thursday 22 March 2018

Internal battles dominate the run-up to election scrap in Wexford

Cllr Malcolm Byrne canvassing at Gorey, Co Wexford, with local florist Peg Gibbons. Photo: Patrick Browne
Cllr Malcolm Byrne canvassing at Gorey, Co Wexford, with local florist Peg Gibbons. Photo: Patrick Browne

All the main parties will be hoping to take something away from Wexford - but it's the internal battles that will prove most interesting.

For Fianna Fáil, their constituency convention was plagued by rows and then headquarters imposed a third candidate onto the ticket to help their gender quota situation.

But it doesn't bother Malcolm Byrne, who after 17 years as a councillor, is finally getting his chance to run for the Dáil.

"I can understand how certain people were disappointed at not getting on the party ticket," he says, referring to New Ross councillor Michael Sheehan.

The party had decided to split the constituency using an East-West divide, meaning Gorey-based Byrne essentially got a free pass on to the ticket.

Cllr James Browne, who is the son of sitting TD John Browne, won the other place but further controversy then struck when bank official Aoife Byrne was added.

Yet Byrne insisted they can work together to claim two seats in this five-seat constituency.

"The fact I'm probably quite independent minded and would have questioned decisions within our party and of the leadership through the years helps," he said.

"People who wouldn't support Fianna Fáil would support me so I have a personal vote," he said.

On the surface, Browne is the more likely of the two Fianna Fáil candidates to take a seat - but Byrne told the Irish Independent: "I'm used to being the underdog."

Mick Wallace was the surprise package in 2011 when he topped the poll with more than 13,000 first-preference votes. And although he lives in Dublin and doesn't hold constituency clinics, he is likely to sail home this time.

At one point in 2011, Fine Gael had hoped to clinch three seats in Wexford, but will happily settle with retaining two on this occasion. Paul Kehoe has spent the past five years as the government chief whip and would have ambitions for a ministry if Fine Gael is returned to power.

Michael D'Arcy was hugely disappointed to lose out last time to outgoing Fine Gael TD Liam Twomey, who is retiring. The party has added Julie Hogan to the ticket but challenging for a third seat is a bridge too far.

The tide will have to be out completely for the Labour Party to lose Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.

There is little doubt that he will lose a substantial fraction of the 11,000 first preference votes he received last time, but having got over the line in every election since 1987 he can expect to survive again.

Sinn Féin is hoping to secure its first ever seat in Wexford and may well do so in the form of Cllr Johnny Mythen.

Prediction: Ind (1), Fine Gael (2), Fianna Fáil (1), Sinn Féin (1)

Irish Independent

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