FG and FF doing battle for three seats in Cork North-West

FG and FF doing battle for three seats in Cork North-West
FG Cllr. John Paul O'Shea, An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food & the Marine, have a walkabout in Macroom Town. 

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael dominate the Cork North West ward but which of them will emerge with two of the three seats in the next General Election? David Linnane looks at how the seat split may develop.

IN the aftermath of the 2016 election, parties from all corners of the political compass were looking to court John Paul O’Shea.

Though he failed to pick up a seat in the general election, he came so close to causing an upset that he made himself one of the hottest prospects in national politics.

Having run as an independent and falling less than 250 votes short of knocking out a 20-year Dáil veteran, everyone wanted to talk to him.

Here was a young candidate with a huge following, who, despite being an independent, had always worked well with other parties.

Brothers:  Fine Gael councillors Tony O'Shea, (left)  and John Paul O'Shea, pictured in Kilbrin, North Cork.Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Brothers:  Fine Gael councillors Tony O'Shea, (left)  and John Paul O'Shea, pictured in Kilbrin, North Cork.Picture: Eddie O'Hare

All he needed was a little boost to take a seat, making him both a threat to be neutralised or an opportunity to be seized by any party that could convince him to join their ranks.

For Fine Gael, he was both.

When he joined the party in 2018, Fine Gael simultaneously removed its greatest road block to winning back a seat in Cork North-West and found the candidate with the best chance of taking it.

Since then, he’s held his council seat and risen up the ranks of the party’s council benches, only confirming his value to the party that won his allegiance.

However, his impact on the constituency was already being felt long before his wardrobe turned blue.

When long-sitting TD Michael Moynihan sought the position of Ceann Chomhairle after the last election, he confirmed just how serious a threat Mr O’Shea had become.

Michael Moynihan, Fianna Fail, celebrating after being re-elected in Cork North West constituency in the general election at Colaiste Choilm, Ballincollig in 2016.Picture: Denis Minihane.
Michael Moynihan, Fianna Fail, celebrating after being re-elected in Cork North West constituency in the general election at Colaiste Choilm, Ballincollig in 2016.Picture: Denis Minihane.

Though he lost out on Fianna Fáil’s nomination and the job itself to Seán Ó Fearghaíl, there was a reason he was looking for one of the Dáil’s greatest prizes.

The role takes politicians out of the normal cut and thrust of politics, but positions them as a key power broker, responsible for the running of the Dáil.

The pay packet isn’t anything to turn your nose up at either, but, beyond that, it’s a prestigious position that has been the pinnacle of many political careers.

But, most importantly, being given the chair and the cloak would have solved a huge headache for Mr Moynihan at the next election – retaining his Dáil seat.

Since the constituency of Cork North-West was established in 1981, the story going into each election has been more or less the same – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil field four or five candidates between them and duke it out for the three available seats.

Though no other party has ever come near getting a seat, the constituency has still been surprisingly volatile, with the two big parties always holding one seat each but swapping the third seat back and forth.

Mr Moynihan has been one of the few constants in the constituency, holding his seat since 1997, but 2016 showed that nothing in Cork North-West is safe.

Off the back of the 2011 election, Fine Gael was heading to polling day with two TDs, Michael Creed and Áine Collins, but a dive in the polls suggested that one of them was on the chopping block.

Fianna Fáil, with a strong wind at its back, had a stronger ticket, with Michael Moynihan joined by Aindrias Moynihan – no relation – the son of former TD Donal Moynihan, well placed as a councillor in the southern end of the constituency.

At the time, most people would have predicted that Fine Gael would lose a seat to Fianna Fáil, and they would have been right.

What people didn’t see coming was the order of election and just how strong Mr O’Shea would prove to be on his first Dáil run.

The first big surprise on count day was Aindrias Moynihan’s result.

Though he was expected to do well, he surpassed expectations.

Throughout the campaign, every candidate had their eye on Ballincollig, the largest town in the constituency which, somehow, had no local candidates of a scale that could pose a real challenge for a seat.

Once the town’s boxes were opened, talliers saw Aindrias Moynihan coming out with the lion’s share, his place in Dáil Eireann now certain.

With 8,924 votes, he topped the poll, although Mr Creed, just behind him on 8,869, would beat him to the first seat on transfers.

That left sitting TD Michael Moynihan looking at the third seat.

Having finished more than 1,000 votes ahead of Ms Collins, his seat looked secure, especially with Mr O’Shea trailing him by nearly 3,000 first preferences.

But though small party and independent candidates have never broken through in Cork North-West, they can still make a difference, and 2016 showed how.

As more and more candidates from the across the political divide were eliminated, Mr O’Shea was hoovering up their second preferences.

As the nail-biting count went on, it looked like he might have taken seat.

However, the last count saw him finish just behind Mr Moynihan, who lived to fight another day.

But that day is now approaching and the landscape is very different.

It’s almost certain that we’re looking at another cycle of the two largest parties splitting the three seats between them, but the split is still up for decision.

Along with signing Mr O’Shea, the Fine Gael ticket has been bolstered by Mr Creed’s rising star.

In 2010, he had a bitter falling out with Enda Kenny that almost ended his political prospects. Despite being a long-time ally of Mr Kenny, a close family friend going back to their fathers’ time in the Dáil, he sided with Richard Bruton in the failed Fine Gael leadership heave.

Mr Kenny responded by freezing him out for five years, with the two said to not even be on speaking terms.

That’s why it was such a surprise that he was promoted from the back benches straight to the head of the Department of Agriculture, a prized cabinet position for any rural TD.

He subsequently kept the position as Mr Kenny made way for Leo Varadkar, securing his place at the forefront of politics.

Though he rarely courts media attention, the rule of thumb is that Ministers see their vote rise in elections after their appointment, and there’s no reason to think it will be any different here.

The two Moynihans have had a more subdued time in the Dáil.

After failing in his bid for the Ceann Chomairle’s chair, Michael Moynihan was made the party’s chief whip, an important position but not one that comes with the kind of profile of a front bench spokesperson Meanwhile, Aindrias Moynihan’s career trajectory has been typical of any first-term TD, staying more or less on the back benches as the party’s deputy spokesperson on natural resources and the Gaeltacht.

Cllr Gobnait Moynihan, Fianna Fail accompanied by her brother Aindrias Moynihan, TD out canvassing in Macroom.Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cllr Gobnait Moynihan, Fianna Fail accompanied by her brother Aindrias Moynihan, TD out canvassing in Macroom.Picture: Eddie O'Hare

But with that said, the pair have a strong vote between them, and one that could hold off challengers to their seats if they can get their strategy right.

Whether that will hold against Fine Gael’s battering ram combo of Mr Creed and Mr O’Shea is the big question going into this year’s election.

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