Front two taking nothing for granted

THE two candidates most likely to take the first two seats in the Euro South contest were taking nothing for granted on the campaign trail yesterday.

Complacency was not a word that either Fine Gael's Simon Coveney or Fianna Fail's poll-topper Brian Crowley would entertain as they made a final push for votes on the hustings.

The polls may have tipped Simon Coveney to take the second seat but the Fine Gael candidate was taking no notice of them. Memories of the 2002 general election when he almost lost his seat his Dáil in Cork South central are still too fresh.

"Before that general election the polls gave me 20% of the vote 3% above the quota but I just got 10% of the first preferences and ended up battling for the last seat," he said.

And yesterday on the campaign trail in the Cork satellite town of Ballincollig, the 31-year-old Cork- man was pushing for votes as if the polls giving him 23% of first preference votes did not exist.

Simon Coveney's team were even out on the Cork city bridges at 7.30am canvassing commuters going to work.

Canvassing in Ballincollig with local Fine Gael councillor, Derry Canty, the Fine Gael candidate went down a treat, particularly with the ladies. One woman told Simon her daughter thought he was "handsome" while another shop owner couldn't resist giving him a kiss. Simon took it all in his stride and asked them for a vote tomorrow.

Over in Cork's south side, Fianna Fáil frontrunner Brian Crowley was making an equal impression on the doorsteps and not allowing his wheelchair to stop him from calling to as many houses as possible.

He managed to engage one student disillusioned with the high motor insurance and reassured him it was likely to come down with the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. And while Brian Crowley may not have secured a number one vote, he at least convinced the student to vote.

But the man who got over 154,000 first preferences last time round was very concerned that people were now thinking his seat was safe.

"The only vote I am guaranteed is my own vote if I though I was safe I would not be canvassing for votes at this stage," Mr Crowley said.

This sounded a bit like a case of 'he doth protest too much' because the Fianna Fail poll-topper would need to lose about 50% of his vote last time round to lose his seat in this election.

"The time I have spent visiting every part of the constituency has given me a high recognition factor, but I am taking nothing for granted," the 40-year-old West Cork man said.

Over in Waterford, Sinn Féin's candidate David Cullinane believes he has an outside chance of winning a seat with 8% of the first preferences and will be in the shake-up for the last seat with Independent Kathy Sinnott and Fianna Fáil's Gerry Collins because he expects to get 10% of the first preferences.

Mr Cullinane rejected the claim by Labour Party candidate Brendan Ryan that Sinn Féin Health Minister Bairbre de Brun in the North had been responsible for the closure of Dungannon hospital.

"Bairbre de Brun set up four oncology units that provide radiotherapy to local communities in the North while the 450,000 people in the south-east are still waiting for a radiotherapy unit," he said.

Meanwhile, with just 5% of the vote, the Green Party's Chris O'Leary seems unlikely to give the party the breakthrough they were hoping for in the South.

But director of elections Dan Boyle TD was philosophical about it: "Our main point in running a candidate was to increase the Green Party vote and build it up so that we can eventually win a seat," he said.

Mr Boyle said it took him eight years to win a Dáil seat, starting with just 3% of the vote in the Euro elections 10 years ago, and the party will be pleased if it finishes ahead of Labour or Sinn Féin.

The three other Independents running on single issues, Gerard Hannon from Limerick, Lily Moynihan from Cork and Anthony O'Connor from Kerry, have not made any impression in the polls and are unlikely to cause any major upset.

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