Saturday 24 March 2018

Meath West

Fine Gael 2, Sinn Fein 1.

THE race to watch in Meath West is an all-Fine Gael affair between Junior Minister Damien English and fellow TD Ray Butler. It's a three-seat constituency and it might not be big enough for the both of them.

Trim-based Butler is likely to be sitting TD feeling the most pressure with Sinn Fein's Peadar Tóibín almost certain to keep his seat and Fianna Fail's Shane Cassells hoping this will be the election where he will win a place in Leinster House.

The old five-seat Meath constituency was traditionally dominated by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

It was split into two three-seaters ahead of the 2007 general election but is unchanged this year.

Meath West includes Navan, the county town - where the future of the hospital has been a major issue - as well as Trim and Kells and a corner of Co Westmeath around Delvin.

A fear of rising rural crime has been a concern among voters on the doorsteps.

The electorate stands at just over 64,000 and turn-out in 2011 was 64.7pc.

Deputy Butler made national headlines when his family home and office were targeted by water protesters in February 2015.

One woman protester outside his office claimed she was hit by his car while he insisted the allegations were "completely unfounded".

The alleged incident was investigated by gardaí who sent file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was reported that the strong indications are that Mr Butler will not be prosecuted.

However, the episode - particularly the protest at his home - were upsetting for the TD who is seen as hard-working in his constituency.

The 50-year-old dad-of-four is particularly proud of his work on behalf of people with disabilities over the last five years.

Butler - a former councillor and businessman - is the only Trim-based candidate so far which may help his chances as the town has always had a TD in the Dail.

He may just hang on to his seat.

His party colleague meanwhile, enjoyed promotion to the ranks of junior ministers in 2014.

Minister of State for Skills, Research and Innovation, English has been a TD since 2002 and topped the poll in 2011 taking 9,290 first preference votes. He will have a strong showing this time too.

Peadar Tóbín is perhaps the surest bet for taking a seat in Meath West.

An economics graduate, he doesn't always fit the mold for Sinn Fein, a party that's often criticised for its grasp of economic issues. He also showed rare defiance to the leadership when he voted against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, briefly losing the party whip in the process.

But the Sinn Fein jobs spokesman is fully on board for its wider ambitions and is a member of its Uniting Ireland Committee.

He got almost 7,000 first preference votes in 2011. Don't be surprised if he tops the poll in 2016. He should hover up much of the left-wing vote in what is something of a conservative constituency. As of mid-January the odds being offered by Paddy Power on him taking a seat are 1/20.

Labour's Tracey McElhinney  was elected to Meath County Council in the Trim area in 2009 but lost her seat in 2014. The Labour candidate in the last general election, Jenny McHugh secured just over 5,400 first preferences and missed out on a seat coming fourth.

Given Labour's current struggles in the polls - particularly in rural constituencies - it'll be hard to see McElhinney do better than Fianna Fail's Shane Cassells who'll be aiming to take back a seat for his party's former stronghold.

Navan-based councillor Cassells first ran for the Dail in the old Meath constituency in 2005, narrowly missing out to the late Shane McEntee of Fine Gael who took former Taoiseach John Bruton's vacant seat.

With the decision of Noel Dempsey not to contest the 2011 General Election, Cassells ran alongside Fianna Fail TD Johnny Brady landing a almost 3,500 first preference votes, not far behind his running mate who lost his seat.

This year Cassells has his best chance in a decade of finally taking a seat provided his party's relative success in the last local elections translates to votes in 2016.

He was selected by Fianna Fail at an early convention and is their only candidate in the constituency.

Family doctor Seamus McMenamin of the Greens will be hoping to do better than his party colleague Fiona Irwin in 2011 who won just 479 votes.

Alan Lawes of Direct Democracy Ireland-National Citizens Movement rounds out the candidates that have declared so far.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News