Byelection set to go down to the wire

Fine Gael candidate in Carlow-Kilkenny David Fitzgerald with Jane Elizabeth Coe on High Street, Kilkenny. Picture: Pat Moore

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has predicted that the Carlow- Kilkenny byelection will be decided on transfers.

He said he expects the race between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for Phil Hogan’s former seat will go down to wire.

Mr Kenny made the comments during a rally in support of his party’s candidate, David Fitzgerald, urging people to make one last push to get the former Kilkenny mayor in to the Dáil.

Speaking to a 200-strong crowd in Ryan’s Bar, Kilmanagh, Co Kilkenny, Mr Kenny said the campaign fought by his candidate is “as good a byelection as you will get”.

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However, “like any contest”, he said those supporting Mr Fitzgerald have “got to keep going until the final whistle” as the “result will depend on transfers” from parties knocked out as the count progresses.

It is unlikely that either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael will shore up their own support through backing from Sinn Féin’s Kathleen Funchion, independents, or parties like People before Profit and the Anti-Austerity Alliance.

A relatively poor showing for Labour is also unlikely to stretch the lead of either of the two largest parties in the constituency which both traditionally dominate.

However, should Renua Ireland’s Patrick McKee perform relatively well but not break into the top two, his second-preference votes could prove vital.

The 26-year-old was elected to Kilkenny County Council in May last year as a

member of Fianna Fáil. However, he has since left to join Renua, and as such has a base that may offer support for his former colleague Bobby Aylward.

Given Renua’s own connections to Fine Gael through party leader Lucinda Creighton

and the group’s focus on business, it is equally likely that Mr Fitzgerald could benefit.

However, due to Mr McKee’s support among a younger age-group and what is believed to be a mainly personality-based vote, neither party can be sure of where the additional backing will fall.

While Mr Kenny’s comments are further evidence that Fine Gael will poll strongly and looks set to be in the final shake-up this weekend, the same cannot be said for its coalition partner.

In the 2011 general election

, Labour candidate Ann Phelan topped the poll on the 14th count, after placing a solid fourth on first preferences.

Now rural affairs minister, Ms Phelan gained the position in the five-seat constituency which has seen Labour take a seat in every general election since 1957 except 2007, even though it has mainly been dominated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

This success rate was mainly due to the longevity of former TD and ceann comhairle Seamus Pattison.

However, it is highly unlikely the party’s byelection candidate, Cllr Willie Quinn, will continue the trend.

While his campaign has received personal visits from Tánaiste Joan Burton and Environment Minister Alan Kelly in recent days, it is privately accepted the party’s main focus this week is the marriage equality referendum, underlining its lack of candidate options in Carlow-Kilkenny.

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