Richard Chambers casts an eye over the people and places to watch
Voting in #GE16 is now well underway across the country but if you are planning to really stick with it over Count Weekend, there are some interesting constituencies to watch.
Here are the main ones:
Dublin Bay North
Dublin North-East and Dublin North-Central have merged to make a super-constituency that’s guaranteed to be a stumbling block for at least two big names.
Three Labour TDs were elected between the two old constituencies and there’s every chance none will be left standing by Saturday, with Junior Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin in a real battle to save his seat.
Also in trouble here are Terence Flanagan, formerly of Fine Gael but now of Renua, while Independent Tommy Broughan isn’t safe either.
Tensions within the local Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil camps add to the intrigue here and former Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power’s high-intensity campaign means she can’t be counted out either.
It’s likely to be a long haul before all five seats are sorted here and most observers don’t see it being done and dusted until Sunday at the earliest.
Expect fireworks. Lots of them. There is no love lost between Tipp’s big names. The three-way scrap between Environment Minister Alan Kelly, former Fine Gael Minister Michael Lowry and Independent Mattie McGrath will be be worth the price of admission in itself.
Our own battle-bus lived up to its name when the trio clashed in Thurles on Newstalk Breakfast earlier this month.
Fine Gael’s Noel Coonan will have his hands full trying to keep hold of his seat after the merger between Tipperary North and South for the first time since the 1940s.
Fianna Fáil are going to be back in contention for at least one seat here and former Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association chief Jackie Cahill could be the one to watch here.
Cork South Central
This is arguably pound-for-pound the highest profile constituency in the country.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin could be pipped to the first seat by his Finance Spokesperson Michael McGrath and there are some observers who say he might face a longer wait to claim his seat than many would expect.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney will be safe, leaving fellow Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer in a real tussle to save his Dáil seat.
Labour’s near-wipeout in the Cork local elections in 2014 point to the end of Ciarán Lynch’s term.
Expect the strongest challenge to break into the 4 seats on offer to come from Sinn Féin’s Donncha O Laoghaire, while Independent Alliance candidate Mick Finn is said to be doing well on the doors.
Dublin Bay South
Two party leaders, a Minister of State and a member of one of Ireland’s longest-running political dynasties make the old Dublin South East one of the most interesting showdowns.
Renua’s Lucinda Creighton was elected for Fine Gael in 2007 and 2011 and will defend her seat from an onslaught launched by her old party. Her old running mate Eoghan Murphy will be safe but all eyes will be on Rathgar pharmacist Kate O’Connell who is gunning for a seat and transfers could take her over the line ahead of Creighton and cause what would undoubtedly be one of the shocks of the election.
The Greens’ leader Eamon Ryan hopes to harness the support of a significant progressive electorate in the area, and will be battling it out with Labour TD Kevin Humphreys, Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrews (formerly a TD for Fianna Fáil) and popular Fianna Fáil Councillor Jim O’Callaghan.
Who’s Under Pressure?
Joan Burton: Labour - Dublin-West
Tánaiste Joan Burton is under siege. Labour’s vote across Dublin has dwindled in the face of protests against water charges and austerity and some poor media performances by the Tánaiste herself.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has maintained his popularity and may be the first to secure one of the four seats on offer, Fianna Fáil’s Jack Chambers is likely to figure, Sinn Féin’s Paul Donnelly is all but certain to be elected, while Ruth Coppinger should maintain much of the support that carried her into the Dáil in 2014’s by-election.
The addition of voters from Ashtown/Navan Road into the constituency will give her something of a firewall but will it be enough to save Joan Burton? Our own Ivan Yates doesn’t think so.
Paschal Donohoe: Fine Gael - Dublin Central
The fates have been unkind to Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe. Large swathes of his support have been moved to two different constituencies and will cost him up to half of his first preferences from 2011.
He’s a popular figure in his Phibsboro base but the reduction in seats from 4 to 3 puts extra pressure on both himself and Labour’s Joe Costello.
There’s a very strong anti-Government vote in Dublin Central. Opposition to water charges, housing issues and unemployment will all combine to cut into Donohoe’s vote and if he survives, it’s likely to be by the skin of his teeth.
Ann Phelan: Labour - Carlow/Kilkenny
If Ann Phelan was confident of retaining one of the five seats in this two county constituency, her decision to walk out of a local radio debate didn’t show it.
The Rural Affairs Minister is well-liked and respected around her base in Graignamanagh and was very visual during the New Year’s flooding.
She capitalised on Labour’s Gilmore gael in 2011 but that’s long since faded. Independents, a resurgent Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s two sitting TDs could all edge her out.
One thing everyone would say about Ann Phelan though is that she’s a fighter and her campaign team will have made every effort to shore up her personal vote and appeal for transfers.