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Absence of Brian Crowley sparks scramble for votes in huge Ireland South region

Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune MEP canvassing over the weekend in Glanmire, Co Cork, with former minister Bernard Allen and local election candidate Lorraine O’Neill.

In the first of a three-part series on the EU elections, Irish Examiner Political Editor Daniel McConnell profiles Ireland South

For the first time in a quarter century, the name Brian Crowley will not be on the ballot paper for a European election.

Having not made even one sitting of the European Parliament since 2014, the immensely popular Crowley bowed to the inevitable in January when he announced his intention to retire on health grounds.

At a press conference in a Cork hotel, Crowley told reporters that he would not be putting himself forward for selection for Fianna Fáil, or running in the election.

The former Fianna Fáil MEP and senator topped the poll in the last European election in 2014 as he did when running in 1994, 1999, 2004, and 2009.

He said his health will not allow him to give the people of Ireland South the campaign that they deserved and that he wanted to run.

Crowley said that it broke his heart to leave a job he loves but he counts his blessings.

“No one received more support, in sickness and in health, than me from my constituents over the past 25 years. It has been a privilege and a joy to serve such wonderful people,” he added.

His decision to stand down combined with the addition of an extra seat in the Ireland South constituency has blown the race wide open. The only caveat is that the last candidate over the line will have to be patient in terms of taking their seat until UK MEPs formally leave the European Union.

Crowley’s absence and more importantly his 181,000 first preference votes from 2014 are up for grabs and are being sought by the 23 candidates contesting the election for the gargantuan constituency which stretches from West Cork to Wicklow, from Waterford to Offaly.

For Crowley’s former party, his departure has caused no end of trauma.

Firstly, Cork North Central TD Billy Kelleher openly defied his leader Micheál Martin’s clear diktat that no sitting Oireachtas member should seek to go for Europe and publicly declared in the Irish Examiner that he was running.

Fianna Fáil candidate in the European elections Billy Kelleher with chicken farmer Margaret O’Leary, from Macroom, Co Cork, on a visit to the mart at Bandon, Co Cork, recently. Picture: Denis Boyle

Speaking ahead of his party’s ard fheis, Mr Martin said he is looking to secure three MEP seats and appeared to row back on earlier comments that Kelleher’s election to Europe would damage the party.

“I am not against anyone, particularly including people like Billy Kelleher. Letters have gone out about the convention on Ireland South so I will not be enforcing a view,” he said.

Then, Kelleher dropped the ball at the first hurdle in being defeated by Gorey councillor Malcolm Byrne at a selection convention in March by eight votes, but was added a short time later to the ticket by a charitable Martin.

This was because Martin and other party bosses are demanding at least one seat, and Kelleher, as a former minister and popular TD, is the best hope of winning the former Crowley seat.

Byrne and Kelleher have agreed a strict vote management strategy which has seen them divide up the constituency, with Byrne given first call on eight counties with Kelleher restricted to the four most populous ones. There is definitely one seat for Kelleher here, and Byrne is in the mix for one of the later seats.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael are hoping that their two current Ireland South MEPs, Deirdre Clune and Sean Kelly, will hold their seats.

Like 2014 when now health minister Simon Harris, a TD for Wicklow, ran as the party’s third candidate, junior agriculture minister Andrew Doyle (also a Wicklow TD) is performing the sweeper role this time around in the Leinster part of the constituency.

Harris exceeded expectation and got a higher first preference vote than Clune in 2014, but being an incumbent should see her and Kelly retain their European status, barring any major disaster.

Few if anyone thinks it is possible for Fine Gael to take three seats and as of now, Doyle looks like the one to miss out this time around.

In 2014, like Lynn Boylan in Dublin, Liadh Ní Riada riding the crest of a Sinn Féin wave fell just short of the quota of 131,500 votes, getting 19% of the first- preferences.

Ní Riada was her party’s candidate in last year’s presidential election and it is fair to say it was a total disaster for her and her new leader Mary Lou McDonald, whose elevation from deputy leader to leader has been less than stellar.

However, despite her poor performance in the autumn, Ní Riada is still expected to retain her seat. But she is vulnerable to challenge and given the rise of the environment as a global political priority, Green Party senator Grace O’Sullivan stands an outside chance of competing for a seat.

O’Sullivan would have to significantly out-perform her party’s national support level as well as being incredibly-transfer friendly to be elected.

A Greenpeace activist for more than 20 years, O’Sullivan is based in Tramore, Co Waterford, and could benefit from not being surrounded geographically by the likes of Kelleher, Clune and Kelly in Cork and Kerry.

But a lot of attention will be focused on Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace who has decided to stand alongside his political partner Clare Daly, who is expected to succeed in Dublin.

Wallace is nowhere near the same calibre of politician that Daly is, but he too, given his high profile, has the potential to hurt Ní Riada’s vote.

One of the major benefits Wallace has going for him is name recognition, and his anti-establishment stance on most issues could benefit his candidacy.

Having previously occupied one MEP seat in the form of Alan Kelly, Labour party hopes are this time resting on Sheila Nunan, the former president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and INTO general secretary.

She won the nomination ahead of former Clare TD Michael McNamara at a selection convention in Cork city.

Nunan’s candidacy, while fully backed by leader Brendan Howlin, has caused some controversy as she does not live in the constituency as she is based in South Dublin.

Solidarity/People Before Profit hopes rest on Adrienne Wallace, who is a Carlow-based office administrator, but she and a host of other independent candidates are not expected to feature in the final shake-up.

In truth, beyond the main party candidates and Wallace, most if not all of the candidates have virtually no realistic expectation of election and really this is a race for five seats among eight or nine candidates.

The candidates: Party-supported and non-aligned

Allan J Brennan (Independent)

Non-aligned Independent candidate from Wicklow. A project manager by profession.

Malcolm Byrne (FF)

A Gorey native and graduate of UCD, elected a town councillor in 1999 at the age of 26 and has sat on Wexford County Council since 2009. Openly gay, he is also the director of communications at the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

Pipped party colleague Billy Kelleher at convention to contest this election by eight votes.

Dolores J Cahill (Independent)

Chairperson of the The Irish Freedom Party, a hardline Eurosceptic political party which advocates an Irish withdrawal from the European Union, Cahill is also a university professor in the field of Science at University College Dublin.

* Deirdre Clune (FG)

Scion of Barry family Fine Gael dynasty and a sitting MEP, former senator and TD from Cork. A mother of four and qualified civil engineer from UCC, she is also a former lord mayor of Cork City.

Andrew Doyle (FG)

The Wicklow-based junior agriculture minister is fulfilling the role played by Simon Harris in 2014 who surprised many by outpolling Clune on the first count. Doyle, a farmer, has been a TD since 2007 and was appointed minister in May 2016.

Paddy Fitzgerald (Independent)

Describing himself as a retired farmer, Fitzgerald hails from Cahir in Co Tipperary and is not affiliated with any major political party.

Breda Gardner (Independent)

A self-described complementary health therapist, Gardner is another independent who is based in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny.

Theresa Heaney (Independent)

A homemaker from Maryboro, Timoleague, Co Cork, Heaney has run in a number of elections unsuccessfully throughout the years. A strongly conservative candidate, she was active in opposing the same-sex marriage referendum.

Billy Kelleher (FF)

The Cork North-Central TD defied his party leader in deciding to stand to become an MEP. Despite having been defeated by Byrne at convention, Kelleher was added to the ticket and represents Fianna Fáil’s best hope of taking the vacant Brian Crowley seat.

A senator between 1993 and 1997 at which stage he won a Dáil seat which he has held ever since.

* Seán Kelly (FG)

Kelly has been an MEP since 2009, winning re-election in 2014. Kelly was the 34th president of the GAA between 2003 and 2006.

A Killarney native, Kelly is also a first cousin of Fionnuala O’Kelly, wife of former taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Kelly has backed plans to end the bi-annual clock change in the EU. Expected to hold his seat.

Peter Madden (Independent)

Describing himself as an environmental educator, the Roscrea-based Madden is another candidate seeking to capitalise on the re-emerging political priority being given to green issues.

Liam Minehan (Independent)

A Nenagh-based farmer who came to public attention for his ‘Fight the Pipe’ campaign against the proposal to pipe water from the Shannon to Dublin.

* Liadh Ní Riada (SF)

Blazed a path to her seat in 2014, but will struggle to match her performance this time around. The Sinn Féin candidate had a disastrous run at the presidency last autumn and her party is still smarting from that defeat.

The daughter of renowned composer Seán Ó Riada, who died when she was four. Her mother died when she was 10. Despite the chilling of sentiment toward Sinn Féin, she is expected to retain her seat.

Sheila Nunan (Labour)

Sheila Nunan is a former primary school principal turned trade union activist. Based in Dublin, she is hoping to reclaim the seat previously held by Alan Kelly.

Outgoing general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, Nunan defeated former TD Michael McNamara at convention to secure Labour’s nomination.

Diarmuid Patrick O’Flynn (Independent)

A former Irish Examiner journalist, O’Flynn is the founder of the Ballyhea Says No campaign, and in 2014 began working as one of MEP Luke Ming Flanagan’s parliamentary assistants.

He ran as a candidate in the South constituency at the 2014 European Parliament election, but was eliminated on the 10th count having secured 51,000 votes.

Peter O’Loughlin (Identity Ireland)

O’Loughlin is the driving force behind the deeply Eurosceptic Identity Ireland “which stands up for the Irish Republic and the Irish citizen”.

Advocating a return to the Punt, O’Loughlin and his colleagues seek to “stand against the modern European Union and against the interference of international finance in our society. We believe that our society should be run for the good of the many not the profit of the few”.

The group is against policies which encourage multiculturalism and ghettoisation as these, it says, can lead to conflict and division.

Grace O’Sullivan (GP)

The Tramore-based Greenpeace activist turned Green Party senator, O’Sullivan is a former national surfing champion and was an unsuccessful candidate in the 2014 European election in Ireland South, winning 27,860 votes.

She was a crew member of the original Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed in New Zealand in 1985 by French intelligence.

While an outside bet, given the renewed interest in environmental issues, O’Sullivan stands a chance at election.

Walter Ryan-Purcell (Independent)

A Kerry-based tour operator, Ryan-Purcell married Hollywood actor Oliver Reed’s widow Josephine in 2001, and in more recent times, was a successful applicant in the TV show Dragons’ Den, where he secured a €100,000 investment. If elected as an MEP, he says he wants to facilitate the formation of the National Government.

Maurice Sexton (Independent)

Not the first run for the Cork-city based scientist, Sexton is a teacher with decades of experience. Describing himself as a “European economic social democrat”, Sexton has said he wants to see the creation of a European senate and a presidential council consisting of member states’ prime ministers

as well as the introduction a directly elected president for Europe.

Jan Van De Ven (Independent)

Originally from Los Angeles, his background is in technology, where he has a significant skill-set and has worked on projects ranging from IT systems to decoding DNA.

He previously ran in 2014 in the same constituency where he got 9,255 first preference votes.

Adrienne Wallace (Solidarity/PBP)

A relative newcomer, Wallace first ran for election in the 2015 by-election for Carlow-Kilkenny, however unsuccessfully.

The following year she ran in the 2016 general election, again unsuccessfully.

She has a BA Hons in Humanities from Carlow College and worked as a waitress before becoming full time in politics.

Mick Wallace TD (Independent)

The bankrupt TD has courted controversy since his election to the Dáil in 2011 for the Wexford constituency.

Himself and Clare Daly have proved to be impactful in the Dáil particularly in highlighting justice issues and matters relating to Nama.

The soccer-mad developer made a seven-figure settlement with the Revenue Commissioners for under-payment of Vat.

Colleen Worthington (Independent)

The self-described homemaker from Togher in Cork is running without the support of any political party.

However, she is part of Families Speak Out, a group of parents and advocates focused on the health of children and the improvement of health services throughout the country.

* denotes sitting MEP

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