Childers name a plus for Labour as FG targets surplus pull-up

AS ONE older voter put it to Nessa Childers, who is campaigning to win a seat for Labour in the East constituency: “Right party, right name, right time.”

Having a famous father, even if he was Fianna Fáil (FF), is standing her in good stead. A member of the Labour Party after a brief foray with the Greens means she is not part of the Government now, which is important at a time when the voters want to see FF hanging from the lamp-posts.

But will it be enough to win her a seat in the constituency that is shared between a huge agricultural base, and the Dublin urban ring? It is now made up of nine counties, having lost Longford and Westmeath to the North West constituency.

The MRBI poll showed Fine Gael on 42%, more than it got in the 2002 election when it won two seats. But there is a real danger it could lose one of those seats this time around.

The party’s answer has been to pull back its star, Mairead McGuinness, who was showing a massive 33% in polls, and try to convince her supporters to give more of their first preferences to her running mate, John Paul Phelan, who was on just 9%.

Even after seven years in the Senate, the 33-year-old Kilkenny man with all of south Leinster to himself does not match her pulling power. But he points out that in the first poll taken in 2002, Ms McGuinness at 11% was polling half of what Avril Doyle was at 22% – and 60% of Ms McGuinness’s surplus went to Ms Doyle.

“I don’t expect it will happen to the same extent for me but I think it will happen,” he said.

Ms McGuinness, who has managed to keep her profile high during her five years in the European Parliament, would have preferred to see the party concentrate on pulling Mr Phelan up, rather than pulling her back.

But HQ was not interested in them running a joint campaign when she argued her face on posters with him would get him the recognition he needs. Belatedly, advertisements featuring them together have been produced, giving him top billing, and from this week she must stay out of Offaly. But there is a danger that if he does not increase his votes, he could lose Ms Doyle’s quota to another woman in the race – Ms Childers.

With excellent name recognition thanks to her father, Erskine, who died in office less than 18 months after being elected president of Ireland, she is making a virtue of the fact that she knows very little about agriculture.

“The constituency is already well served with two farmers,” said her campaign manager, Deputy Liz McManus. Ms Childers would know more about climate change and the potential for jobs, she said.

With 30 years in the Dáil, Liam Aylward of FF – a member of the famous Kilkenny political family – was at a respectable 19% in the MRBI poll. But his election manager, brother Maurice, is taking nothing for granted: “This is one election that you do not know what is going to happen because there is a silence, a silent anger, with people. Hopefully they will give a bit of thought and realise this is a world recession and we cannot escape, and start coming back to Fianna Fáil again,” he said.

Like Ms McGuinness, Mr Aylward is upset about what he sees as untruths going into people’s letterboxes about them from Libertas, including on abortion and euthanasia.

But Libertas candidate, farmer and businessman Ray O’Malley, is unrepentant.

A neighbour of Ms McGuinness in Ardee, Co Louth, he believes he can increase his 3% in the last poll.

Two Sinn Féin candidates, Tómas Sharkey from Dundalk and Kathleen Funchion from Kilkenny, will raise their profile for the next general election, though their votes will help decide the placings of candidates in the run-off for the last seat.

Ms McGuinness should be elected on the first count; her surplus could bring up running mate Mr Phelan and keep him in the race.

Liam Aylward could take the second seat unless Ms Childers improves her first preferences from the 17% predicted in the poll and gets votes when the Sinn Féin candidates are eliminated.

If that happens there would be a scrap between Mr Aylward and Mr Phelan.

But nobody is calling it in the East at the moment, other than for Ms McGuinness.

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