John Minihan: My tips on Cork’s election battle grounds

JOHN MINIHAN, a former senator and general election candidate from Cork, assesses the state of the parties in the run up to the election, and gives a few tips on the constituencies
John Minihan: My tips on Cork’s election battle grounds
John Minihan. Picture: Gerard McCarthy

THE posters are up, the sound bites are in full flow and the promises are flooding the airwaves like confetti at a wedding. It’s as if the circus has rolled into town. Be aware however, as you mark your ballot paper, post-election promiscuity is almost guaranteed from all sides once the precious boxes reveal their secrets.

The era of single party government is very much a thing of the past. My former party, the Progressive Democrats, was the last bastion of defence when it came to ensuring single party Government was not in the ‘national interest’ and in 2002 as few as 183 votes determined the outcome of the general election.

So, on February 8, we do it all again.

It can be argued that, in reality, the present government has built a strong, credible team, highly regarded on the international stage, who have positioned us well for future post- Brexit negotiations. However, as Harold McMillan wryly quipped, “events, dear boy” can impact on an election campaign.

I see this election as a three in one contest.

First, a direct head to head between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to earn the moral authority to occupy the office of an Taoiseach and lead the negotiations to form a new administration.

Second, we have the competition between Labour and the Greens to see if between them they can get sufficient numbers to form a coalition with either of the above; and finally the independents and the smaller groupings who might find the chance to influence, if the price is right.

What of Sinn Féin, you might ask. Well, neither of the main parties say they will go into government with them for a variety of reasons so it seems, for now, they will continue to sit snugly on the opposition benches.

Those who call for a grand coalition of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael should also recognise that, were this to happen, Sinn Féin as the largest party would lead the opposition, a situation neither of the main parties would want.

The timing of the election is going to restrict interaction between candidates and electorate, which is regrettable from a democratic point of view. Weather and darkness will interfere with the process, with reliance on the print media, social network and TV, and leaders’ debates having a bigger impact than normal on the outcome.

Socialist Party Mick Barry, TD.Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Socialist Party Mick Barry, TD.Picture: Eddie O'Hare

On that backdrop, here’s how I think Cork’s 18 Dáil seats will pan out:

Cork North Central (four seats): The sprawling, diverse constituency will be a dog- fight fought out on bread and butter issues and the poor representation of the constituency in the last Dail is sure to be a contentious issue on doorsteps. There will be a novelty element to this battle, with three of the outgoing TD’s not standing and the demise of our Defence Forces, health, anti-social behaviour, drugs, housing and urban regeneration will be hot issues.

Cllr. Ken O'Flynn.Picture Denis Minihane.
Cllr. Ken O'Flynn.Picture Denis Minihane.

Fianna Fáil, surprisingly running three candidates, Fine Gael, and Sinn Féin, boosted by by-election results, seem set to secure the first three seats, leaving outgoing TD Mick Barry in a tight corner and a tense, long count will determine who takes the fourth very important seat, which could likely influence the composition of the next administration. Cllr Ken O’Flynn has a fighting chance, and his first preference vote will decide the outcome of that final seat, where transfers will be of critical importance.

Fianna Fail Spokesperson on Finance Michael McGrath. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Fianna Fail Spokesperson on Finance Michael McGrath. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Cork South Central (four seats): The extraordinary quality of political talent in the broadly middle class constituency is unique in that three of the sitting TDs are all potential Taoisigh, There is little doubt Fianna Fáil will return Micheal Martin and Michael McGrath, while the statesmanlike representation of hard-working Tánaiste Simon Coveney in the past four years should safely see him returned for Fine Gael, leaving another tough scrap to determine the fourth seat.

Fine Gael’s hope of a second seat with Senator Jerry Buttimer an outside chance, and by not moving to Cork North Central he may have missed the opportunity to return to the Dáil. Sinn Fein and the Greens will be in the final shake-up with the environmentalists just about shading it, on foot of issues around the incinerator in Cork Harbour, etc.

Cork County Mayor, Christopher O’Sullivan. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Cork County Mayor, Christopher O’Sullivan. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Cork South West (three seats): Michael Collins’s incursions up North for cataract surgeries will probably be enough to get him over the line again. Christopher O’Sullivan, son of a former TD from Clonakilty and current County Mayor, is a young man in a hurry and will be in the shake up with the incumbent member from Bandon in what will be an intriguing internal battle for a traditional safe Fianna Fail seat.

Outgoing Minister of State Jim Daly’s Fine Gael seat seems secure, with the high media profile candidate Tim Lombard poised to retain that seat. A young, articulate Cllr Holly Cairns of the Social Democrats is one to watch, if only to see how her votes transfer to boyfriend, Fianna Fáil’s O’Sullivan.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Cork North West (3 seats): Still a traditional battlefield between the two main parties, while Fianna Fáil currently hold two seats, that could well change for one of the Moynihans, Aindreas and Michael, as the geographical base of candidates comes into play, with transfers being the ultimate arbitrator.

This is a bellwether constituency in deciding the ultimate outcome of the election. With an urban/rural mix, it touches all the key issues. Fine Gael will hope voting management will see Michael Creed reverse the last election result and take John Paul O’Shea with him, with one of the Moynihans losing out.

Kevin O'Keeffe TD. Picture: Tony O'Connell Photography.
Kevin O'Keeffe TD. Picture: Tony O'Connell Photography.

Cork East (four seats): This is again split geographically, with two being elected from the north and two from the south — Kevin O’Keeffe (Fianna Fáil) from Mitchelstown and Séan Sherlock (Labour) from Mallow, and two David Stanton (Fine Gael) and Pat Buckley (Sinn Féin). This is a target constituency for Fianna Fáil, where they will be hoping poll- topper O’Keeffe will help Youghal-based Cllr James O’Connor come through. Having said that, Sinn Féin and the Greens will still have a lot to say in that final seat

Whatever we decide on February 8 will determine the future of so many. Will we continue to rise from the ashes, will we successfully complete post-Brexit negotiations, will we secure the future for our children, and responsibly tackle the social economic and environmental challenges we face, or will we squander it all for short term gain.

We need to reflect, take responsibility and cast our vote wisely. Regardless of all of the international concerns, I believe the biggest risk to Ireland is internal, not external, it’s all about internal politics. A radical change of direction now could be disastrous.

John Minihan served as a member of Seanad Éireann for the Progressive Democrats and stood as that party’s candidate for the Cork South-Central constituency at the 2007 general election. He has also contested local government elections.

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