Wednesday September 23, 2020

Key local battles to decide the national winner in Election 2020

Micheál Martin chased opportunities, while Leo Varadkar tried to cut losses in the closing days of the campaign

Michael Brennan

Political Editor

9th February, 2020
Mark Ward, Lynn Boylan and Eoin Ó Broin of Sinn Féin out looking for votes

There was a telling insight into the battle for votes across 39 constituencies in the travel itineraries of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during the closing days of the campaign.

Martin went to the Laois-Offaly five-seater to canvass with party candidate Peter Ormonde in Birr, in the hope of winning a third Fianna Fáil seat in the constituency. He also went to the Cork East four-seater, where Fianna Fáil believes councillor James O’Connor has a chance of picking up a second seat alongside sitting TD Kevin O’Keeffe.

While Martin was looking for gains, Varadkar’s movements during the final days of the election campaign were mostly motivated by a desire to save the seats of embattled Fine Gael TDs.

He went to Carlow to help Pat Deering, whose seat is under huge pressure from Fianna Fáil senator Jennifer Murnane-O’Connor. He also paid a visit to Clare, where Fine Gael is in danger of losing one of its two seats, currently held by Pat Breen and Joe Carey.

Fianna Fáil‘s Timmy Dooley is likely to be re-elected in the constituency, and the party is confident that councillor Cathal Crowe, who is mayor of Clare and recently refused to go to the planned (but ultimately cancelled) RIC commemoration event, could take a seat. It this were to happen, it would boost Dooley’s chances of a cabinet position after being dropped from the Fianna Fáil front bench due to the Votegate controversy.

As the votes are counted today, there are other key constituencies to keep a close eye on.

Fianna Fáil’s top targets

Longford-Westmeath: four seats

Longford was left without a local TD after the last general election, so Fine Gael councillor Micheál Carrigy and Fianna Fáil councillor Joe Flaherty are the two local candidates seeking to fill that gap. Fianna Fáil believes that Flaherty has the advantage here, but that could be complicated if Sinn Féin’s candidate Sorca Clarke, who lost her Westmeath county council seat in last year’s local elections, makes a comeback to become a TD.

Dublin North West: three seats

Councillor Paul McAuliffe, the current lord mayor of Dublin, is expected to take a seat at the expense of Fine Gael TD Noel Rock.

Dublin Rathdown: three seats

Fine Gael had high hopes of getting a second seat here through senator Neale Richmond, at the expense of Independent Alliance Minister Shane Ross. A rise in anti-government sentiment puts Ross at risk of losing out. The surprise beneficiary could be Fianna Fáil councillor Shay Brennan, son of the late Fianna Fáil minister Seamus Brennan. Martin was out canvassing with Brennan last week too.

Limerick city: four seats

Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea topped the poll here in 2016 with almost 13,000 votes, when the quota was only around 9,300. He had no running mate then, but this time Fianna Fáil councillor James Collins is on the ticket too. The party is hoping that the “Peter Power principle” will deliver for it, given that transfers from O’Dea used to secure a seat for his running mate of that name.

Despite reports of O’Dea not asking for number two votes for Collins, he has taken out an ad in the Limerick Post asking for precisely this. If Fianna Fáil succeeds, Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan is the most likely to lose out. The Green Party’s Brian Leddin could also challenge for a seat.

Laois-Offaly: five seats

Fianna Fáil believes it could win a third seat here alongside sitting TDs Barry Cowen and Seán Fleming. Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley and Fine Gael Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan are expected to retain their seats, although Flanagan was “confined to barracks” during the campaign, following the RIC commemoration event controversy.

That puts Fine Gael’s Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy in a battle with Fianna Fáil’s third candidate Peter Ormonde and Green Party senator Pippa Hackett. A win here would be a big boost for Martin’s chances of becoming Taoiseach.

Other Dublin constituencies

There are other Dublin constituencies where Fianna Fáil is very confident of gaining seats. These include Dublin Central, where Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick is set to finally make a breakthrough at the fourth attempt, and Dublin South Central, where Fianna Fáil Senator Catherine Ardagh could get elected at the expense of Fine Gael minister of state Catherine Byrne. Fianna Fáil is also hopeful that former TD Charlie O’Connor can take a second seat in Dublin South West alongside sitting TD John Lahart.

Sinn Féin’s top targets

Sinn Féin is very confident of winning a second seat in Cavan-Monaghan, through Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy and former councillor Pauline Tully. The party came within 500 votes of taking a seat in this constituency when it was last a five-seater in 2011.

It also expects to get two seats in Donegal through Pearse Doherty and senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. And it has a real chance of achieving what previously seemed impossible: holding two seats in Dublin Mid West, through Eoin O’Broin TD and Mark Ward TD.

A big scalp for Sinn Féin would be a Fine Gael seat in Meath East. To do so, councillor Darren O’Rourke would have to take one of the seats held by Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty or Helen McEntee. In Wexford, Sinn Féin’s Johnny Mythen will be in the shake-up for a seat. And if Fine Gael has a really bad day in Mayo, then it could lose out to Sinn Féin senator Rose Conway-Walsh, who has been contesting local and general elections there for the past 16 years.

There are other constituencies where Sinn Féin could pull off a surprise, but this is limited by the fact that it is only fielding 42 candidates.

Potential Green Party gains

The Green Party is confident of winning its first ever seat in Dublin West through councillor Roderic O’Gorman, and is also well positioned to win its first ever one in Dublin Central too, through finance spokeswoman Nessa Hourigan. It can also gain a seat in Dublin Bay North through councillor David Healy and another one in Dun Laoghaire through councillor Ossian Smith.

Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin could see her husband, councillor Francis Noel Duffy, elected in Dublin South West and her brother, Vincent P Martin, elected in Kildare North. That could be at the expense of veteran Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan, who has held his seat in the Dáil through nine elections since 1982 – including the Fine Gael wipeout in 2002.

The Green Party’s best chance outside of Leinster is councillor Marc O’Cathasaigh, who has a great chance of taking a seat in Waterford following the retirement of Independent TD John Halligan.

Fine Gael’s potential losses

Fine Gael is at risk of suffering from the same problem that Fianna Fáil had in 2011. It has 82 candidates across the 39 constituencies, but if its vote share drops significantly below the 25.5 per cent it got in the 2016 general election, then its risk of seat losses increases.

The vote will be split between its candidates, and Fine Gael is less likely as an incumbent government to get transfers from opposition candidates. This increases the risk of its candidates being eliminated if transfers from other candidates dry up.

Fine Gael could suffer in Wicklow, where it has three candidates running – Minister for Health Simon Harris, minister of state Andrew Doyle and Billy Timmins – and in Meath West, where minister of state Damien English has two running mates.

The party is also in big trouble in Wexford, where its former by-election candidate Verona Murphy is in with a chance of taking a seat. Fianna Fáil is hoping to hold onto two seats through James Browne and Malcolm Byrne. That could cost either Fine Gael minister Paul Kehoe or Michael D’Arcy their seats.

The party is in danger of losing one of its two seats in Galway West, where minister of state Sean Kyne is reported to be in more difficulties than Hildegarde Naughton. And in Sligo-Leitrim, it almost won two seats last time out but now is fighting to hold on to one through senator Frank Feighan or councillor Thomas Wals,h due to the challenge from former Independent MEP Marian Harkin.

There are fears in Fine Gael about the seat held by Martin Heydon in Kildare South, but the party is hoping he will pull through.

Fine Gael should hang onto its seat in Cork North West, but Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed will have to be careful to make sure that he is not overtaken by the party’s other candidate, former Independent councillor John Paul O’Shea. Its Galway East TD, Ciarán Cannon, also has to watch out for a strong challenge from his party colleague, councillor Pete Roche, in Tuam.

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