Byelections 2019: ‘Strong TD now for a neglected constituency’in Cork North Central

Byelections 2019: ‘Strong TD now for a neglected constituency’in Cork North Central
Padraig O’Sullivan celebrates after the result of the 10th count and the elimination of Thomas Gould confirmed his election to Dáil Éireann. Picture: Larry Cummins

It was a good day at the office for Fianna Fáil, according to party leader Micheál Martin, and it was hard to disagree.

Padraig O’Sullivan took a strong lead on the first count, picking up 27.6% of the first preference votes, and his victory was never in doubt from that point.

In Jack Lynch’s constituency, the Fianna Fáil candidate had been the firm favourite. He was vying to fill the seat vacated by party colleague Billy Kelleher, who was elected to Europe earlier this year.

It took until the 10th count for the 35-year-old teacher to finally be elected. He did not reach the quota of 12,784 but was deemed elected upon the elimination of all other candidates.

“There is a massive tradition for Fianna Fáil on the northside of the city,” said Mr O’Sullivan.

“Jack Lynch, Denis Lyons, Danny Wallace; we have had great stalwarts over the years and I am proud to join that lineage of politicians.”

Speaking early on Saturday, Mr Martin said it had been a good day for Fianna Fáil and that Mr O’Sullivan will be a strong candidate for Cork North Central.

“North Central will have a strong TD which is needed because they feel neglected and people are angry,” said Mr Martin.

Dara [Murphy] hasn’t been active as a TD for two years since Leo Varadkar did not reappoint him as a minister. He was virtually non-existent.

Speaking in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said Mr Murphy will co-operate with any inquiry into his parliamentary attendance records and expense claims.

“I was in contact with Dara earlier today,” said the Taoiseach. “He is willing to provide documentation and co-operate with any investigation that may be carried out either by the ethics committee in the Dáil or by the standards commission.”

In the end, it was Sinn Féin councillor Thomas Gould who claimed second. Mr Gould performed very well on transfers, starting the day in third place but surpassing Fine Gael senator Colm Burke on the seventh count as a number of left-wing candidates were eliminated.

Mr Gould proclaimed the party’s showing as “a victory” that shows the appetite for Sinn Féin in the constituency, while Mr Burke said he was focused on 2020 and that he was keen to continue his work.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney had said Fine Gael was always focused on building Mr Burke towards 2020.

Most candidates claimed they were content with their performances on the day.

Labour’s John Maher, a city councillor, claimed fourth spot and said the result puts him in a prime position to mount a general election run. Oliver Moran of the Green Party finished fifth and said similar.

The spectre of Mr Murphy loomed over proceedings, with Fine Gael candidates reluctant to be drawn on the announcement of his resignation last week, but Mr Coveney was one of those to suggest that it had not been a significant factor in the vote.

Padraig O'Sullivan with his wife Bernie and 9-month-old Paudie Og. Picture: Larry Cummins
Padraig O'Sullivan with his wife Bernie and 9-month-old Paudie Og. Picture: Larry Cummins

For some of the candidates on the left, such as Solidarity’s Fiona Ryan, Mr Murphy’s role underlined the general apathy of the public towards the by-election and the Government in general.

The story of the day was one of turnout, though.

The electorate was 85,524, with a total poll of just 25,854 or 30.2%. In fact, one box, a 21-vote box in Bishopstown, did not have a single vote cast in it, underlining the apathy in some areas.

Mr Coveney put this down, in part, to the public struggling to get animated for a by-election when a general election is around the corner.

Fianna Fáil enjoys rousing success in Rebel stronghold despite low turnout

For Fine Gael the spectre of Dara Murphy is hard to shake in Cork North-Central, says Kevin O’Neill.

Fianna Fail topping the poll and retaining their seat in Cork North-Central came as no surprise.

It has been a Fianna Fáil seat for the best part of a century, after all.

The northside of Cork has been as strong a stronghold for the party as you’ll find.

The current constituency came into being in 1981 and in its previous guises of Cork Borough, Cork City and Cork City North-West, Fianna Fáil has always been a dominant player.

It first saw Seán French elected in 1927 and was, of course, Jack Lynch’s constituency too. At one point in time, it wasn’t unusual to see as many as three Fianna Fáil representatives from the area and, though that dominance has slightly dwindled in the face of a more splintered political spectrum in the area, it would have been a shock for them to have no representation at all.

When he was elected to the seat, Billy Kelleher had 4,000 votes to spare, emphasising his popularity in the area.

To paint Padraig O’Sullivan solely as the beneficiary of latent Fianna Fail support would be unfair; he has his own base in Glanmire, Little Island, and Glounthaune, and worked the constituency well.

He can be expected to be a strong player in the general election, whenever it does roll around.

Thomas Gould, too, has left Sinn Féin with questions to answer. A two-candidate strategy didn’t work for Sinn Féin in 2016, with just Jonathan O’Brien elected at the time, but Mr Gould’s popularity is soaring and it may be hard for the party to ignore when it comes to selecting a ticket.

For Fine Gael, the spectre of Dara Murphy is hard to shake.

Picture: KevinO'Neill
Picture: KevinO'Neill

While senator Colm Burke and Tánaiste Simon Coveney played down the role that Mr Murphy’s resignation, revealed by the Irish Examiner last week, played in the vote, there was already a sense that his absence for the last two years may have already damaged Fine Gael’s reputation in the area.

Mr Burke can take solace in a strong performance but how the party handles the fallout from Mr Murphy’s resignation and concerns around attendance and expenses may play a pivotal role in how they perform in Cork North-Central in the coming months.

The low turnout on Friday hit left-wing candidates hard and it must pose some concerns ahead of the general election.

While Solidarity candidate Fiona Ryan acknowledged that party TD Mick Barry has a stronger base than her and should perform better in the general election, they can’t ignore the rise of Labour and Green Party candidates in the area.

John Maher and Oliver Moran are both sitting councillors representing a new, young wing of their respective parties. There is momentum there, but whether it will be enough to see them through a contested constituency remains to be seen.

Crucial for all parties will be reversing the trend of disinterest, though.

Turnout was just 30.2% and while by-elections typically don’t capture the same attention as general elections, most candidates noted it as a concern.

More on this topic

Little support for Verona Murphy after ‘disastrous’ campaignLittle support for Verona Murphy after ‘disastrous’ campaign

Fine Gael byelection troubles: Shift in powerFine Gael byelection troubles: Shift in power

Elaine Loughlin: Are we in a new era of intolerant politics?Elaine Loughlin: Are we in a new era of intolerant politics?

Daniel McConnell: Byelections 2019 fallout sees Martin on the move with Varadkar stuck in reverseDaniel McConnell: Byelections 2019 fallout sees Martin on the move with Varadkar stuck in reverse