Monday 19 February 2018

FG claims second seat is ' a given'

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

IT could be arrogance, it could be hubris or it could be stating the obvious.

Pat Deering, Fine Gael's new hope in Carlow-Kilkenny, says it is a "given" the party will win a second seat in the five-seat constituency and will be fighting for a third.

Mr Deering, a distant cousin of the wife of Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes, says he has a "great chance" of winning a seat in Carlow.

The Rathvilly-based councillor, whose father Michael sat on the council for a staggering 42 years before passing the seat to his son in 2009, says agriculture is his main area of interest.

Mr Deering said the closure of the sugar beet factory in Carlow in 2005 was devastating.

"There's a lot of anger here about how the sugar beet industry was sold out by Mary Coughlan when she was Minister for Agriculture and by Greencore," he said. "They just took the money and ran and now we're left with a 300-acre bare site."

Fine Gael needs to improve on the one seat it has in a constituency that is massively in play.

With four of the outgoing TDs part of the Fianna Fail-Green Party coalition, and the electorate in a vicious anti-government mood, Mr Deering and his running mates, Fine Gael senator John Paul Phelan and party bruiser 'Big' Phil Hogan, need at least two of them sitting in the next Dail.

Mr Deering is based in Carlow, which could be a happy hunting ground since Fianna Fail Carlow TD MJ Nolan is one of the party's elder lemons shuffling into retirement.

Local Fine Gael sources are spinning the hoary old line that the county could end up with no TD at all, which is usually done to boost a Carlow candidate's chances.

The other TD from the county, Green Party junior minister Mary White, is in danger. Mr Hogan and Mr Phelan are both from Kilkenny and are well known. Mr Phelan narrowly missed out on a Dail seat in 2007, but the pair have a fractious relationship and took different sides in last summer's heave.

Given his organisational skills, Mr Hogan was criticised in the party for not bringing in a running mate in 2007 and will have to make amends this time.

He was appointed Fine Gael national director of elections after marshalling Enda Kenny's troops during the heave. As one of most powerful voices in the party -- some call him the real leader of Fine Gael -- he is a dead cert for the next Cabinet.

"Fine Gael will be in the hunt for the third seat," he said. "We've devised a strategy that will help us maximise our vote."

Hunt

The Labour Party is also in the hunt. The party is looking to regain the seat held for decades by former Ceann Comhairle Seamus Pattison and, before him, his father James.

It is running two candidates in order to capitalise on its surge in the polls, with Anne Phelan standing in Kilkenny and Des Hurley in Carlow.

The constituency traditionally returned two seats each for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and one for Labour but Ms White picked up the left-wing seat for the Greens last time out. Ms Phelan is seen as the stronger Labour prospect and says there is definitely one seat for the party, but probably not two.

Although rivals say Ms White is "toast" and "got every bounce of the ball last time", when she was elected on her third attempt, the Green TD is determined to prove them wrong.

"It took me 10 years to get elected and after I got elected the last time, at 2.30am that morning I made a commitment I would be knocking on doors every Friday, Saturday and Monday and I've kept that up," she said.

Mr Nolan's retirement has created a space on the Fianna Fail ticket for young councillor Jennifer Murnane-O'Connor, who had been snapping at his heels anyway, but she is a long shot to retain the Carlow seat.

The internal Fianna Fail battle boils down to Kilkenny, as two TDs fight for the one perceived safe FF seat, with the other left to scrap to keep the second.

It's rural versus urban and pro-Cowen against anti-Cowen, as loyalist Bobby Aylward in the county and rebel John McGuinness in the city square off.

Mr Aylward has the benefit of a strong machine built up in his family's base in south Kilkenny -- his brother Liam was the local TD for 30 years and is now an MEP -- and a strong traditional Fianna Fail vote.

But Mr McGuinness's sustained haranguing of Taoiseach Brian Cowen could play well with those inclined to vote for the party but disillusioned with the Government.

Sinn Fein is also standing two candidates -- Kathleen Funchion in Kilkenny and John Cassin in Carlow. Conor MacLiam, the husband of prominent health campaigner Susie Long who died from cancer three years ago, is running for the United Left Alliance.

Constituency profile

Carlow-Kilkenny

- Number of seats: 5

- Electorate: 102,666

- Voters per TD: 20,533

Potential candidates

FIANA FAIL

John McGuinness TD

Bobby Aylward TD

Cllr Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

FINE GAEL

Phil Hogan TD

Senator John-Paul Phelan

Cllr Pat Deering

LABOUR

Cllr Ann Phelan

Cllr Des Hurley

SINN FEIN

Cllr kathleen Fuchion

Cllr John Cashin

GREEN PARTY

Mary White TD

INDEPENDENTS

Conor MacLiam

Last time

- Fianna Fail took three of the five seats, with John McGuinness topping the poll and party colleague Bobby Aylward coming a mere 35 votes behind him.

- Fine Gael’s Phil Hogan failed to bring in running mate, with John-Paul Phelan narrowly losing out to Mary White of the Greens, who took the last seat in a shock result.

- Labour split its vote with two candidates and loses its traditional seat.

Irish Independent

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