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Fifteen starters in Wexford's race for Dail seats

General Election 2020

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An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar

Last Tuesday morning (14th), An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stepped up to the microphone outside Leinster House and announced that he would be dissolving the 32nd Dáil.

For many, there was an element of jumping before they were pushed for Varadkar and co, as major question marks hung over whether they could survive another vote of no confidence in either the Minister for housing or health.

For days beforehand speculation was rife and the only question mark hung over the date. This was perhaps the curve-ball that Leo threw, announcing that for the first time since 1918 we would be going to the polls on a Saturday - February 8.

In Wexford, candidates certainly hit the ground running. It didn't take long for the posters to come out and notably Minister of State Michael D'Arcy and Labour leader Brendan Howlin were quick out of the traps, ensuring their faces had prime billing around their hometowns in the battle for hearts and minds. As the week wore on, the Wexford constituency began to take shape as candidates threw their hats into the ring, each seemingly determined to create more suspense around their announcement than the last. As things stand, the people of Wexford will be faced with a relatively long ballot paper as they head into the polling booth. A total of 15 candidates will by vying for our votes over the coming weeks, braving the January and February wind, rain and cold to knock our doors and convince us that they are best suited to represent the model county in Dáil Eireann. In recent months there's been quite a bit of discussion over the strategies that the main parties would employ facing into a general election.

There was some in-fighting in Fianna Fáil as the party decided on who would go before the public, ultimately resulting in the creation of the 'Fianna Fáil Four' of James Browne, Malcolm Byrne, Lisa McDonald and Michael Sheehan. Browne is widely considered to be among the favourites to top the poll on this occasion, with Malcolm Byrne's stock remaining quite high after successfully contesting a by-election in recent months, following on from his local election and European campaigns.

While Lisa McDonald had previously been selected as the party's general election candidate, she was leapfrogged by her old friend Byrne when it came to the by-election and had some choice words about her party and leader Micheál Martin after the decision was taken to also add New Ross councillor Michael Sheehan onto the ticket. Running four candidates is seen as a risky strategy by observers, leaving Fianna Fáil in danger of splitting their vote and shooting themselves in the foot. Whether putting four candidates forward for five seats is ambitious or bordering on madness will remain to be seen.

It hasn't all be plain sailing for Fine Gael either. Verona Murphy was expected to join junior ministers Paul Kehoe and Michael D'Arcy on the party ticket, but she became a box-office attraction for the national media after making some ill-judged and controversial comments on the topic of migrants during the course of her by-election campaign. This resulted in Paschal Donohoe being sent to pull the plug on her Fine Gael career.

Not to be put off, Verona has returned to the fray as an independent and having been gagged by her party towards the end of the by-election, she says she now feels free to get her point across on a whole host of issues and has been taking advantage of her high profile with TV and radio interviews.

This left a gap on the Fine Gael ticket, which was supposedly to be filled by Cllr John Hegarty. However, having been contacted by the top brass and confirmed his interest in standing, it was only three days into the campaign that he was officially informed that the party would be running just two candidates in Wexford - Kehoe and D'Arcy. Concerns over splitting the vote are sure to have figured quite highly in the decision, particularly with Hegarty and D'Arcy both claiming a strong base in the North Wexford parish of Kilanerin. However, the final decision was two for Fine Gael - half the candidates of rival Fianna Fáil - as they hope to return both junior ministers after February 8th.

The Labour party will be looking to retain their strong base in Wexford town as party leader Brendan Howlin goes solo on the ticket. Following an extremely strong performance from his parliamentary assistant and councillor George Lawlor in the by-election, finishing runner up to Malcolm Byrne, there was some speculation that the party may gamble and field both. However, despite Lawlor's strong showing, the party leader pulled rank and the Mayor of Wexford withdrew stating that he was happy to be a team player and that his boss and friend is 'Wexford's best chance at a senior minister in the next government'. Labour certainly seem ambitious this time out, hoping to double their seats in the Dáil and that Deputy Howlin will be in the position to be 'king-maker' in any would-be coalition, giving him a big role in the next government.

Despite suffering a fairly tough time of it in recent campaigns, Sinn Féin were in buoyant mood after the by-election with candidate Johnny Mythen stating that there 'are back'. The party have stuck with the former councillor, who lost his seat in the last local elections and will be hoping to push for that final seat, just as they did in 2016 when Mythen lost out to Paul Kehoe by just 30 votes.

If it's a dog fight in the north of the county, a bit of a battle royale is also in the offing in the south as Independent candidate and Chairman of the Rosslare Municipal District Ger Carthy also declared he'd be contesting. Having topped the poll in Rosslare and, previous to that, in the Wexford District in local elections, he sees himself in a dog fight with fellow independent Verona Murphy and Michael Sheehan.

There's a splash of pink in this election campaign once again as Mick Wallace protégé and Wexford FC Chairman Seanie O'Shea seeks to capitalise on his long involvement in sporting life in the county running under the Independents4Change banner. O'Shea will be hoping to draw out at least some of the vote that Wallace enjoyed in the county and has already obtained the support of veteran independent councillor Davy Hynes on the campaign trail.

People Before Profit have returned to their last successful candidate following a couple of disappointing campaigns as Deirdre Wadding makes a comeback to the political arena, while Aontú councillor Jim Codd is hoping to build on his by-election campaign as he seeks the endorsement of rural Wexford. Finally, a familiar face for his work with cancer sufferers and charity shops around the county, Foulksmills native Bart Murphy will be hoping to provide an alternative to voters after confirming his intention to stand last week.

While it was widely anticipated that, fresh from her recent by-election campaign, Karin Dubsky would again represent the Green Party, on Friday she decided to withdraw her name from the election race at the final hour, despite having been spotted canvassing around North Wexford the previous day. Yesterday (Monday) evening, the Greens announced that they had a replacement candidate in place in the form of Paula Roseingrave.

So there we have it. The battle lines have been drawn and every politician in the county has shifted into campaign mode. Among the issues set to figure highly in the minds of Wexford people are mental health services, housing, rural infrastructure, Rosslare Europort, climate change and the creation of a new college campus and a South East University. Prepare to see plenty of photos of windswept, rain-battered politicians and their supporters, shoes worn out from canvassing and jostling for position at any photo-ops over the coming weeks. Let the campaign commence.

The local candidates

James Browne - Fianna Fáil

Malcolm Byrne - Fianna Fáil

Ger Carthy - Independent

Jim Codd - Aontú

Michael D’Arcy - Fine Gael

Brendan Howlin - Labour

Paul Kehoe - Fine Gael

Lisa McDonald - Fianna Fáil

Bart Murphy - Independent

Verona Murphy - Independent

Johnny Mythen - Sinn Féin

Seanie O'Shea - Independents 4 Change

Paula Roseingrave - Green Party

Michael Sheehan - Fianna Fáil

Deirdre Wadding - People Before Profit

Wexford People