THE Sinn Féin surge may mean that Cork East returns the same four TDs as 2016, despite everyone targeting Pat Buckley’s seat.
A simple rule has governed the constituency for decades: two TDs to the south and two TDs to the north.
In the last election, Labour’s Seán Sherlock was joined by Fianna Fáil’s Kevin O’Keeffe at the northern end, while Fine Gael’s David Stanton held his seat in the southern end, joined by Sinn Féin’s Mr Buckley.
Mr Sherlock, Mr O’Keeffe, and Mr Stanton can be considered safe bets to hold their seats.
Mr Stanton has held his through thick and thin for Fine Gael, over the last 22 years, while the Sherlock’s have held a seat, on and off, here for decades, with Seán having an unbroken run since taking over from his father, Joe, in 2007.
Mr O’Keeffe, who topped the poll in 2016, has only been a TD for four years, but his family history is similar to that of Mr Sherlock, with his father, Ned, holding a seat here for 30 years.
That’s why people have had their sights set on Mr Buckley. When he was elected, Sinn Féin was in disarray in the constituency, following an internal conflict over bullying.
Though he smoothed over that conflict after taking over from Sandra McLellan, a brush with the gardaí and a court appearance brought him under scrutiny and raised questions about the party’s ability to hold the seat.
While Fine Gael’s second candidate, Pa O’Driscoll, is based in the northern end, where there are no vacancies, Fianna Fáil has had its eyes on Mr Buckley’s seat for quite some time.
However, Padraig O’Sullivan’s successful move to Cork North-Central meant a late change in the ticket, with freshman councillor, James O’Connor, taking his place.
For a first time Dáil candidate, only six months into a council career, unseating a sitting TD is a big ask, though it can’t be ruled out. Independent Mary Linehan-Foley could also put up a fight, especially if she can pull support that would otherwise go to Fianna Fáil, her former party.
The Green Party’s Liam Quaide cannot be counted out, either, after his party won two council seats in Cobh and Midleton last year.
But Mr Buckley can’t be counted out. Sinn Féin had a terrible local election in Cork last year, but Danielle Twomey still defended Mr Buckley’s old seat.
And there’s a clear surge for the party nationally, as Mary Lou McDonald makes a case for Sinn Féin as a real alternative to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
Though a Fianna Fáil upset is still a possibility, Mr Buckley could still confound his critics and hold the seat.