West Cork’s new faces and seasoned campaigners vie for victory

The division of West Cork into two electoral areas, Skibbereen and Bantry, would strongly appear to favour the two main political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

West Cork’s new faces and seasoned campaigners vie for victory

The division of West Cork into two electoral areas, Skibbereen and Bantry, would strongly appear to favour the two main political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

A total of 23 candidates, including 11 from the two main parties, are in a contest for nine seats. However, the split-up of the municipal district into a five-seater and a four-seater may limit opportunities for many of the new candidates hoping to make a breakthrough.

Traditionally, there would have been more chances for newcomers if the region had been a single electoral area with nine seats up for grabs.

However, with a few exceptions, the likelihood of a first-time non-party or standalone party candidate making it to County Hall will be a near-miracle.

The likely difficulty for the smaller party candidates and independents is the struggle for transfers to cross the line against the well-oiled party machines of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Fingers-crossed for a surprise or two, but the usually well-controlled, vote management strategies of FG and FF may well win out in both electoral areas.

In addition to a strong first-preference vote, second and third preferences will be crucial to keep ambitious newcomers in the race.

In the Skibbereen-West electoral area, four outgoing councillors are among the 13 candidates challenging for five seats. The LEA (local electoral area) also encompasses Clonakilty and Dunmanway.

In Bantry-West, 10 candidates, including two serving councillors, are in a battle for four seats which also takes in the three peninsulas. With Bantry-based councillor Mary Hegarty not seeking re-election and John O’Sullivan transferring to Bandon-Kinsale, Fine Gael has no outgoing councillors among its six candidates, three in each LEA.

Fianna Fáil, with three outgoing councillors, is fielding three candidates in Skibbereen and two in Bantry. Sinn Féin, Aontú and the Social Democrats are each running two candidates but in separate electoral areas, while Solidarity-People Before Profit has a sole candidate in the Skibbereen area. Significantly, there is no Labour Party challenge in the region.

Skibbereen-West Cork (5 seats):

Four outgoing councillors, Fianna Fáil pair Joe Carroll and Christopher O’Sullivan along with Sinn Féin’s Paul Hayes and independent Declan Hurley are seeking re-election.

New boundary changes have, in particular, dealt Courtmacsherry-based Mr Hayes a blow, losing out on a share of his local Seven Heads peninsula vote and strongly reliant on hometown Clonakilty rallying to his rescue.

Dedicated and diligent, Mr Hayes is well respected by the electorate and his County Hall peers.

However, he faces the strongest challenge in being re-elected as Clonakilty is also the home base of sitting councillor Christopher O’Sullivan, whose trojan work in the community had made him a firm favourite to retain his seat.

Furthermore, Fine Gael’s newcomer JJ Walsh, is also Clonakilty-based and is certainly in a prime position to take a seat benefitting from an urban base and a lifetime spent with the region’s largest agri-food producer Carbery Group before his recent retirement. On his debut in local politics, Mr Walsh, a hard-working party campaigner for many years, could be considered a potential poll-topper.

Should Mr Hayes succeed in retaining his seat, the greater Clonakilty area would command three of the five seats. Overall, to compound matters, six of the candidates have a Clonakilty connection.

Meanwhile, Skibbereen’s Mr Carroll is determined not to lose a grip on his seat after reinforcing his popularity with a good five years service in County Hall. However, he won’t have it easy.

Karen Coakley from Fine Gael is a main opponent but the threat to Mr Carroll could come from within his own party, with FF parliamentary assistant Deirdre Kelly also on the ticket.

She failed to take a seat in 2014 but is hoping to significantly bolster her first preference vote due to her daytime job with sitting TD, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony. In her Dunmanway base, Ms Kelly is up against Fine Gael’s Yvonne Cahalane, a carer, and more significantly, ex-county mayor and long-serving councillor and community activist Declan Hurley.

A farmer, Mr Hurley is non-party and has been a stalwart in the community in terms of leadership and innovative projects and has been rewarded with a solid vote. However, despite his popularity, transfers will be essential.

The Social Democrats, meanwhile, has entered politics in West Cork for the first time with two impressive young women candidates, one in either LEA.

Holly Cairns lives just outside Skibbereen but is running in the Bantry LEA. She works on the family farm and business which produces Brown Envelope Seeds.

In the Skibbereen LEA, meanwhile, is Clonakilty-based journalist and disability rights’ activist Evie Nevin. She founded and ran Disabled People Together for Yes during the successful 2018 campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment and also volunteers with support groups aiding people in Direct Provision.

Evie Nevin, the Social Democrats’ Clonakilty-Skibbereen candidate, with party leaders Roisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy.
Evie Nevin, the Social Democrats’ Clonakilty-Skibbereen candidate, with party leaders Roisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy.

Both are fighting their first election and both could be formidable opponents.

However, what begs the question, is why the Soc-Dems given both candidates’ strategic bases, did not aim for a seat in the larger Skibbereen LEA where second preferences and more could determine at least one of the candidates fighting for perhaps the fifth and final seat.

The same could also apply to Sinn Féin which has a former Skibbereen town councillor and farmer Donnchadh Ó Seaghdha contesting the Bantry LEA.

However, in its case, Sinn Féin could be planting the seeds for a general election challenge where Mr Hayes is already the chosen candidate. Overall, Fianna Fáil looks likely to retain two seats, Fine Gael is assured of one and a Fine Gael candidate will feature in the race for the last two seats with Mr Hayes and Mr Hurley.

Bantry-West Cork (4 seats)

The four seats available in the extreme west presents a veritable battle royale.

In 2014, then first-time Michael Collins stormed the local elections and secured a seat on the first count with a massive poll-topping performance.

He repeated his success in the 2016 general election making way for his brother Danny, a Bantry publican, to be co-opted to the county council without challenge.

Although 2019 is Danny Collins’ first election, he remains a favourite to retain the council seat, having the luxury of being based in the LEA’s largest population base and having the support of his TD brother’s campaign machinery.

However, political observers will be eyeing the Beara and Mizen peninsulas, in particular, where Mr Collins faces a double Fine Gael threat to his vote-pulling power with the return to politics of an ex-TD and former long-serving county councillor Noel Harrington, and also the return of a political dynasty in West Cork, third-generation political hopeful Katie Murphy.

Castletownbere postmaster Mr Harrington, first elected to County Hall in 1999 and twice returned afterwards, lost his Dáil seat along with Michael McCarthy in 2016 when the electorate punished the FG-Labour government for its policies during the financial crisis.

Mr Harrington’s three terms of service in County Hall is in his favour despite the low number of votes up for grabs in Beara.

With Ms Hegarty leaving politics, the share of her largely Bantry-based party vote could equally favour any of her colleagues, newcomers John Dineen or Katie Murphy.

However, on his home turf, Noel Harrington also faces the challenge of shaking off another solid community activist Finbarr Harrington who, among other interests, heads the Concerned Businesses Association Castletownbere.

The association is opposing a new traffic plan for the port town which includes a one-way system bypassing the main thoroughfare which has not found favour with many businesses and residents. It’s a local issue that may sway voters.

It’s a local dispute that could impact on all Beara candidates. Most observers are convinced that two of the four seats are likely to be secured by Mr Collins and a Fianna Fáil candidate.

Fianna Fáil’s Patrick Gerard Murphy is county mayor who has two terms of service in County Hall.

The wheelchair-bound councillor works with the National Learning Network in Bantry which delivers certified training programmes for people with disabilities.

Beara-born and Ballylickey-based he is confronted, however, with a strong challenge from his running mate, newcomer George Gill. The 27-year-old legal executive is a political graduate who has reportedly impressed Fianna Fáil heads at national level.

With Fine Gael assured of at least one seat, it will also be in contention for the final seat which will, for certainty, involve Fianna Fáil and, most likely, independent Finbarr Harrington and Sinn Féin’s Mr Ó Seaghdha, a pair who may well rattle the cages of the main parties.

Meanwhile, entering the fray in the very competitive four-seater is UCC undergraduate Katie Murphy who has politics in her blood and has put her second-year studies on hold to seek a seat.

Running under the Fine Gael banner, the 20-year-old is also anxious to get young people involved in politics and ensure housing and infrastructure will be in place for young families to live, or return to their rural roots.

“No one ever encouraged me to go into politics,” she said.

Her peripheral base is unlikely to be an obstacle as she aims to extend the dynasty and emulate her father Michael Pat jnr, a non-party councillor, and her famed grandfather, Labour Party’s Michael Pat Murphy who gave over 60 years in service to West Cork in both County Hall and Dáil Eireann where he was a parliamentary secretary — a minister of state into today’s parlance.

Her late father and grandfather were highly respected and their engaging demeanour and tireless campaigning work for the electorate was also, the characteristics of another Mizen favourite PJ Sheehan who represented Fine Gael over five decades.

Mr Collins is a firm favourite but it’s a tough call with FF and FG possibly assured of one seat each but it’s a battle for the fourth seat.

Independent having to dig deep without the support of party

The population of the municipal district of Bandon-Kinsale has risen by over 3,000 to 37,268 people but the make-up of the refined electoral area swings in support of candidates based in the two larger urban areas.

Although boundary changes suggest townlands transferred are naturally-orientated towards the electoral areas, many voters who have been shifted to Carrigaline LEA, for instance, have attachments to Bandon and Kinsale while townlands just outside the urban boundary of Clonakilty find themselves, unwillingly, in the Bandon electoral area instead of Skibbereen-West Cork.

Alan Coleman out canvassing, chatting to Michael Fielding, Kilbrittain, in Ballinspittle, Co Cork. The candidate admits it’s ‘liberating’ to be an Independent but he also misses having a party campaign team behind him at election time. Picture: Eddie O’Hare
Alan Coleman out canvassing, chatting to Michael Fielding, Kilbrittain, in Ballinspittle, Co Cork. The candidate admits it’s ‘liberating’ to be an Independent but he also misses having a party campaign team behind him at election time. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

The Seven Heads peninsula along with Timoleague were relocated, forcing outgoing Cllr John O’Sullivan from Courtmacsherry to go with the flow to fight Bandon-Kinsale municipal district. Meanwhile, Cllr O’Sullivan along with sitting councillors Alan Coleman (non-party) Kevin Murphy (FG) and Cllr Gillian Couglan (FF) are all challengers.

The electoral area line-up encompasses Bandon and Kinsale urbans, Abbeymahon, Ballinadee, Ballinspittle, Ballyfeard, Ballymackean, Ballymartle, Ballymodan, Ballymurphy, Baurleigh, Boulteen, Brinny, Butlerstown, Cashel, Coolmain, Courtmacsherry, Cullen, Inishannon, Kilbrittain, Kilbrogan, Kilmaloda East, Kilmaloda West, Kilmonoge, Kinsale rural, Kinure, Knockavilly, Knockroe, Laherne, Leighmoney, Murragh, Nohaval, Rathclarin, Templemartin, Templemichael, Templeomalus and Timoleague. Leaving Bandon-Kinsale and transferred to Carrigaline are Templebreedy, Liscleary, Kilpatrick, Dunderrow, Ballygarvan, Ballyfoyle and Farranbrien.

Alan Coleman acknowledges it’s “liberating” to be an Independent councillor.

But elected in 2014 on the first count under a Fianna Fáil banner, Cllr Coleman admits he misses having a party campaign team behind him in a now reconfigured Bandon-Kinsale electoral area.

Having been the party’s team leader in the last local elections and securing a huge vote, Cllr Coleman may well have to battle it out with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael candidates for the last of the six seats.

Approaching three decades as a public representative, ex-county mayor Mr Coleman said: “It’s my first time since 1991 that I’m running as a non-party candidate in the local elections.

“I’m middling confident and would hope people would judge me on my record as an experienced public representative interested in creating vibrant and sustainable communities to benefit from our key industries — tourism, retail farming and fishing.

With boundary changes I’m concerned about ground lost in Goggins Hill, Ballinhassig and Minane Bridge but I would be hoping, with transfers, to be in the shake-up for the sixth seat.

Being an independent you can make up your own mind on many issues but, come election time, a campaign team is very handy.

The reshaped electoral area, many observers believe, gives an advantage to the main parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Between them, they have seven candidates making it difficult for most of the standalone candidates to cause an upset due to vote transfers being crucial.

Five years ago, Fine Gael fielded three candidates and optimised their traditional good vote management to take three seats.

FG’s Cllr James O’Donovan, however, is retiring after only one term and another colleague Cllr Aidan Lombard, co-opted after his brother Tim was elevated to the Senate, has relocated to the Ballincollig-Carrigaline electoral area.

Cllr Kevin Murphy, the FG leader in County Hall with 37 years service as a councillor, is determined to retain his seat.

But, along with Cllr O’Sullivan who transferred from the West Cork municipal district, Fine Gael has decided to run four candidates.

Party stalwart Cllr Murphy may be put to the pin of his collar with the entry into local politics of another Kinsale-based candidate Marie O’Sullivan, who also has political pedigree.

Her father Denis (Denny Owen) O’Sullivan was a Fine TD and senator with unbroken Oireachtas service from 1951 to 1969 and her mother Kathleen Hawkes was a local councillor in Bandon.

A mother-of-two who has operated a cafe business in Kinsale since 2007, Ms O’Sullivan has held a number of officerships at all levels within Fine Gael and could well be a FG poll-topper.

Meanwhile, Gerard Seaman, a car sales executive from a well-known business family, is also making his debut in politics and hoping to bring fresh thinking into local politics.

Located in the party’s heartland of Bandon, he may be the one to relieve one of the outgoing councillors of a seat.

Bandon-Kinsale currently boasts three FG seats but, with four candidates and a traditionally good voting transfer record, the signs are quite good of the party holding the status quo, at least.

However, Cllr John O’Sullivan forced to transfer to the electoral area after the Seven Heads peninsula was unhitched from Skibbereen-West Cork, has been dealt a severe blow.

He notes most of the other main party candidates have a strong urban base, with his chances of a return to County Hall reliant on his home parish, neighbouring Kilbrittain and a number of badly carved-up townlands to secure his return.

Fianna Fáil, meanwhile, which comfortably claimed two seats in 2014, has a new-look team after Mr Coleman, now an Independent, and Cork South TD Magaret Murphy-O’Mahony polled 27% between them five years ago.

The outgoing Cllr Gillian Coughlan, a former town councillor co-opted when Ms Murphy-O’Mahony won a Dáil seat, is joined by Dermot Brennan, a Clonakilty-based teacher in his first election, and a former town councillor Sean O’Donovan, added to the ticket by party HQ.

Cllr Coughlan is the anchor of the team and likely to be the party’s main vote catcher putting in a solid performance in County Hall as a passionate speaker and industrious pubic representative.

Vote management, again, will be key in holding the two seats with local public Mr O’Donovan likely to be the frontrunner to grab a second seat.

However, Mr Brennan who has been teaching for over 20 years, has said he is passionate about the well-being and development of local communities, with a focus on education and mental health issues.

Sinn Fein’s Rachel McCarthy, who topped the poll in 2014, is not running and her replacement, Kinsale’s Noel Harrington, a former town councillor, may struggle to repeat the retiring councillor’s success which reportedly involved a strong personal vote.

With Aontú’s Mairéad Ruane also contesting, the party’s impact locally remains an unknown quantity and could, mainly, affect Sinn Féin.

However, should the main parties benefit considerably from the political changes and take five seats, the limelight will be on the final County Hall seat where Mr Coleman and Mr Harrington, especially, along with FG and FF candidates may have to slug it out for the final seat.

FG’s Mr O’Sullivan believes if he doesn’t receive a phenomenally high first preference vote in the area south-west of Bandon and succeed, the rural part of the region will be left without representation in County Hall.

“The main parties will be dominant but primarily to the benefit of the urban areas,” he says.

Over 50 years on from first election, Collins still believes in merits of local government

WITH a half-century of service, the country’s longest-serving local authority councillor is preparing his 17th election campaign.

Cllr Noel Collins, based in Midleton, Co Cork, has underlined the significance of the local elections.

Cllr Noel Collins
Cllr Noel Collins

“The role of local government in our lives is an important one,” said the non-party councillor, first elected in the 1960s.

“It is the part of the public service that has the greatest impact on us all,” he stressed.

“Our health and housing services are in need of major overhaul, plagued as they are by underfunding and waiting lists.

“My involvement in politics and community affairs goes back to June 1967 when I was elected to the then Midleton UDC and then Cork County Council in 1974.

I have been actively involved in immigrant welfare, Cork Simon Community, elderly, homeless and disabled person associations.

I’ve campaigned for equality of rights by way of legislation in the workplace, for men, women, and young people some of whom are treated like doormats.

Passionate words from a man born in North Dublin but whose public life has been dedicated to enhancing the welfare of many people in his long-adopted East Cork. He’s a rare breed but his words should act as an encouragement to outgoing councillors and to hopefuls aiming to secure a seat in County Hall chambers around the country.

In Cork county, with 55 seats up for grabs, a total of 107 candidates are contesting 10 electoral areas.

With a huge emphasis on gender balances in government, both central and local, just 30 of the candidates in Cork County LEAs are women. Fine Gael is putting forward nine, Fianna Fail six, Sinn Féin and Social Democrats four each, three non-party and other representing Aontú, Green Party, Independents for Change and Solidarity-People Before Profit.

Notably, a number of young people are contesting with two teenagers, Leaving Cert student Catriona Reid, 18, running for the Green Party and 19-year-old non-party candidate, Ben Dalton O’Sullivan, a UCC politics student both seeking seats in Carrigaline.

In West Cork, the youngest candidate is a 20-year-old second-year UCC politics student, Katie Murphy (Fine Gael) following in the political footsteps of her father and grandfather.

Although Cork county is split into three administrative divisions, there are eight municipal authorities with ten electoral areas.

West Cork municipal district with nine councillors is split into a five-seater and four-seater, Skibbereen and Bantry respectively, while North Cork MD is similarly broken into two areas, Mallow and Kanturk.

Overall, the historic reorganisation of local government in Cork has impacted on most of Cork County Council’s municipal districts but most significantly in Carrigaline where the former 10-seat Ballincollig-Carrigaline MD has become a six-seat municipal district, and resulting in the political unification of one of the county’s largest towns.

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