Thursday 18 January 2018

Kelly and Coonan face off in crucial battle

Fine Gael Deputy Noel Coonan canvassing in Templemore. Photo: Mark Condren
Fine Gael Deputy Noel Coonan canvassing in Templemore. Photo: Mark Condren
John Downing

John Downing

The merger of the two three-seaters of Tipperary North and South to make one five-seater, means at least one of the six outgoing TDs must lose.

But more may fall if, as expected, Fianna Fáil claw back a seat in what was for decades their heartland.

The biggest question being asked nationally is whether Environment Minister Alan Kelly can hold his seat with a heavy national trend against his party. Kelly lost a large swathe of territory in the north of the county to the new adjoining three-seat constituency of Offaly.

Meanwhile, all the parties and Independents are preparing for the demands of "playing the full pitch" this time out.

Long-time Independent Michael Lowry, who had almost 30pc of the vote last time in the old Tipperary North, is on target to be a poll-topper. Junior Agriculture Minister Tom Hayes is also expected to hold his own for Fine Gael.

Thereafter, up to six candidates will be bunched with little more than a thousand votes between them. And the sequencing of eliminations will tell a lot.

Independent Séamus Healy, of the breakaway trade union grouping Workers & Unemployed Action Group (WUAG), will be hard to shift. Despite local election reverses for his grouping in 2014, he has a good reputation around Clonmel where the bulk of the population lives.

High-profile Independent Mattie McGrath from Newcastle, close to Clonmel, faces a fight. He was a long-time Fianna Fáil member but fell out with the party in June 2010, and decided to sever his links entirely and stand as an Independent in February 2011. His high national profile may help him across the entire county.

Fine Gael's Noel Coonan of Roscrea is deemed most vulnerable but he argues that he has always been fighting an uphill battle. "A constituency can benefit from having junior or senior ministers. But they also need somebody who grinds out the day-to-day results for local people. That is what I do and the people know that," Deputy Coonan told the Irish Independent.

That comment identifies the enemy as Environment Minister Alan Kelly.

Fianna Fáil are reduced to having no TD in the entire county and this time they field three candidates in efforts to redress this. These are Cllr Michael Smith of Roscrea, Cllr Siobhán Ambrose of Clonmel, and Cllr Jackie Cahill of Thurles. Smith is son of Michael Smith, a long-time TD, senator and minister.

The rivalry between all three will be intense but party managers hope this of itself will help. The clear risk is that they could hopelessly split the vote and drag each other down. Cllr Jackie Cahill is a former president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association and he won the selection convention in May. Cllrs Smith and Ambrose were later added to spread the load.

Local canvassers expect the battle is between Cahill and Smith, with Cahill's more central location and identification as a farm union leader a distinct advantage.

But Michael Smith's father, a long-time TD and Cabinet minister, is active on his son's campaign and has overcome such obstacles in the past.

Sinn Féin are fielding Nenagh-based councillor Séamus Morris, involved in sport and tourism promotion. He will have a good vote but unlikely to figure for a seat.

PREDICTION: 1 FG; 1 FF; 1 Lab; 2 Inds.

Candidates:5 seats

FG Noel Coonan TD, FG Tom Hayes TD, FG Marie Murphy, LAB Alan Kelly TD, FF Jackie Cahill, FF Siobhan Ambrose, FF Michael Smith, SF Seamus Morris, GP Gearóid Fitzgibbon, IND Mattie McGrath TD, IND Michael Lowry TD, IND Seamus Healy TD, IND Caroline Hofman, IND Michael Dillon.

Irish Independent

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