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Fianna Fáil city councillors Kenneth O'Flynn, Tony Fitzgerald and John Sheehan in line to join sitting TD Billy Kelleher on the party ticket for the next General Election in Cork North Central.
Fianna Fáil city councillors Kenneth O'Flynn, Tony Fitzgerald and John Sheehan in line to join sitting TD Billy Kelleher on the party ticket for the next General Election in Cork North Central.
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Fianna Fáil North Central battle to join the General Election ticket

A FIERCE battle is set to take place within Fianna Fáil in Cork North Central as councillors prepare for a hotly contested convention to join sitting TD Billy Kelleher on the ticket at the next general election.

At least three candidates are expected to fight it out to become Mr Kelleher’s running mate in a constituency that Fianna Fáil is targeting for a second seat.

City councillor John Sheehan has now confirmed his intention to seek the party's nomination, joining Cllr Kenneth O'Flynn in the hunt. 

Current Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald is also believed to be interested but is not expected to confirm his intentions until closer to the convention, which is set to be held in the autumn.

Last year, Mr Kelleher won more than 14,000 votes - almost one-and-a-half quotas - and the constituency is seen as one of Fianna Fáil's most promising targets for a second seat as it continues rebuilding under Micheál Martin.

Cllr John Sheehan, the Blackpool-based GP is the second city councillor to declare his interest in joining Billy Kelleher on the ticket after Cllr Kenneth O'Flynn said confirmed in December that he would be putting himself forward. 

Mr Sheehan is opening a constituency office in the old Blackpool post office in the coming days, located just around the corner from his surgery. Solidarity's Mick Barry previously occupied the same space during the 2016 general election campaign, where he won a seat in the constituency.

Mr Sheehan and Mr O'Flynn both ran for the first time in 2009, in the Cork City North Central ward. Mr O'Flynn, who had been co-opted onto the council after the resignation of his brother, successfully defended his seat, while Mr Sheehan failed to take a second seat for the party. 

Fianna Fáil ran the same ticket in 2014, with both men taking a seat, increasing the party's vote share from 19% to 25%.

Mr Kelleher was the only candidate for the party in the 2016 general election, but his high vote share in that election has made it a target for a second seat in the next general election. He won more than 14,000 first preferences - 1.4 quotas - with many members of the party at the time saying that a strong second candidate may have been able to take a second seat for the party.

Mr Sheehan said that he believes the party is well placed to take a seat at the next general election, but that it is not a certainty either.

"The public mood changes, and it certainly moves between elections, so I wouldn't be underestimating the challenge," he said. 

He said that, based on his experience at a local level, he wanted to move to the national stage to have a greater impact on people's lives.

"An awful lot of what we do is dictated by national policy, and that should happen with things like health. We can make all the pronouncements we want at a City Council level, but all the decisions are made at a national level," he said.

He said that he wanted to be involved in legislation that helped better people's lives, whether that is health related, or tackling something like vulture funds.

"I know that sounds grandiose, and it's hard to do, but these things have an impact," he said.

Mr O'Flynn said he is looking forward to a "fair and healthy contest" with Mr Sheehan.

"I'm on the streets around the constituency, and people have asked me to put my name forward. I'm very encouraged by the reception I've got on the doorsteps. 

"John has said that he wants to be a voice for the Northside. I want to be a voice for the whole constituency, which extends all the way from Blarney to Bishopstown," he said.

A date has not yet been set for the Fianna Fáil has begun holding selection conventions in recent weeks, including in Cork South West, where Margaret Murphy O'Mahony was selected to defend her seat over the challenger Cllr Christopher O'Sullivan from Skibbereen. Cork South Central and Cork North West are expected to be held without any risk of controversy, with party leader Micheál Martin and finance spokesperson Michael McGrath, and Aindrias Moynihan and Michael Moynihan all re-selected without challenge. In Cork East, Cllr Padraig O'Sullivan from Little Island is expected to contest the convention to join sitting TD Kevin O'Keeffe on the ticket, where Fianna Fáil will be pushing for a second seat.