Anyone looking for a shock result in election 2016 would be wise not to spend too much time pondering the political landscape in Offaly.
Even during the 2011 ‘democratic revolution’, the area — then the Laois-Offaly five-seater — was stable in its backing for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, with the situation almost certain to continue when votes are cast on February 26.
However, due to boundary changes, Laois-Offaly is now two separate three-seaters, meaning that there is one empty seat available.
Fianna Fáil’s environment spokesperson Barry Cowen — brother of ex-taoiseach Brian and son of late TD Ber — is practically guaranteed to top the poll, with some suggesting he could obtain his quota on the first count.
The high-profile TD gained more than 8,000 first preference votes in the 2011 crash for his party and with Fine Gael’s Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan joining Fianna Fáil’s Seán Fleming and Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley in the new Laois constituency, he is unlikely to be challenged for the top spot.
Fine Gael’s only candidate in the constituency, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, should also comfortably retain her Dáil position, although there has been some local criticism that she has not done enough for the area in the last five years. With two candidates near- certainties, it leaves a three-way fight for the final seat.
The front-runners for the third seat — effectively the real race in the constituency — will be ex-Independent and recent Renua addition John Leahy, Fianna Fáil gene pool Independent John Foley, and Sinn Féin’s Carol Nolan.
While his party is new, Mr Leahy has a strong recent record in the county, obtaining 5,000 first preferences as an Independent in 2011 and giving an equally strong showing in the 2014 local elections.
Fianna Fáil-turned-Independent Mr Foley is likely to challenge strongly for the position, and was not far behind Mr Leahy in 2011, winning more than 4,000 first preferences.
However, Mr Foley and Fianna Fáil’s second candidate, Eddie Fitzpatrick, will be fishing for the same votes in the north of the constituency, which could see them cancel each other out.
While Mr Leahy will similarly have to compete with Sinn Féin’s Mr Nolan for votes in the south, they will not cross over as strongly, meaning a breakthrough seat could be available for Renua.
However, the likelihood is that Offaly will continue its traditional stable voting pattern next week, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael remaining in control of the constituency.
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