Extra seat throws up endless possibilities

BOUNDARY changes have thrown the race in this former five-seat ward wide open with the Green Party and Sinn Féin set to battle it out for the new sixth seat.

Following a report by the Electoral Area Committee last year, voters in the former five-seat ward will elect six councillors this year.

Parts of Bishopstown and Wilton, especially around the Model Farm Road, as well as areas around Gillabbey Street and the Mardyke had been part of the north west ward.

However, the redrawing of the boundary, using the River Lee as the new division, has brought several thousand southside voters, who for years voted in a northside ward, back in to the south west ward.

The key for candidates fighting in these areas will be to convince voters that they are voting for southside candidates. Health, education and jobs are key issues, with parking, traffic, and the development of student and private apartments also to the fore.

The ward was dealt a devastating blow last September when Tyco on the Melbourn Road announced that it will shed up to 320 jobs by this September.

Thousands of workers based at the nearby Model Farm Road business park are, like all workers in the private sector, facing an uncertain future.

Those attending the Fás regional training centre, as well as students at the Cork Institute of Technology, will be watching candidates closely for their positions on the local economy.

The controversial plans for a co-located private hospital on the grounds of Cork University Hospital could also play a role.

But whether voters will take their anger on these largely national issues out on local candidates remains to be seen.

Like all Fianna Fáil candidates, Fergal Dennehy, based in Togher, and Bishopstown-based Mary Shields, both of whom opposed the co-location plans, could be under pressure to hold both seats.

Mr Dennehy polled 1,408 first preference votes in 2004 and took the second seat on the second count, with Ms Shields taking the third seat.

Lord Mayor Brian Bermingham took the fourth seat but has enjoyed a high profile during his term of office and should be safe.

Former Fine Gael Cllr Jerry Buttimer topped the poll with 1,968 first preference votes in 2004. He was elected to the Senate after failing to win a Dáil seat in 2007, and was replaced on the council by his brother, John, who played a key role in his 2004 local election campaign. John Buttimer is running his own campaign this time and should be able to build on his brother’s base to retain the seat, as should Labour’s Michael Ahern, who took the fifth seat last time out.

The other candidates are Labour’s Ger Gibbons, a 36-year teacher from Glasheen who worked on former Labour Cllr Ciaran Lynch’s backroom team when he won a Dáil seat in 2007. He will no doubt be trying to capitalise on his party’s national surge.

Fine Gael’s Barry Keane, who used to run the former Cupán Tae cafe on College Road, has remained relatively low-key so far. But all sitting candidates will have their eyes on the Green Party’s Mick Murphy and Sinn Féin’s seasoned candidate Henry Cremin as the main contenders for the ward’s new seat.

With 1,020 votes, Mr Cremin took just under 12% of the poll in 2004 and narrowly missed out on a seat despite receiving more first preference votes than either the present lord mayor or the former mayor Cllr Michael Ahern. Transfers cost him a seat.

He will be in the mix again this time fighting it out with Mr Murphy, who as an independent candidate in 2004 took just over 7% of the vote.

A co-founder of the anti-high rise campaign group, Communities for Sustainable Development, Mr Murphy polled an impressive 623 first preference votes in 2004.

He has been working on the ground since on a range of issues and was appointed the Green Party’s spokesman on community development last year.

He is also spearheading the Cork campaign for a heritage centre on the Beamish and Crawford site.

Transfers from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael candidates could see him take the sixth seat.

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