Cork rivals rely on geography in battle for precious votes

ORGANISING the armies, positioning foot-soldiers and deciding who is deployed to which battleground will keep much put-upon directors of elections sleepless for the next week.

In many ways, demographics will decide the pitch between parties.

But when it comes to internal skirmishes, geography is key. This is especially so in the European constituencies, where battle lines are being redrawn and party colleagues scrap over which areas matter most.

In Ireland North West, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are split over who gets the areas east and west of the Shannon.

In Ireland East, Fine Gael is trying to distribute a likely surplus between two candidates and Fianna Fáil is running a sweeper in the north to bolster its prospects below Kildare.

But in Ireland South, the addresses of the candidates could play an even stronger role in the three seat battle.

In 2004, the fisticuffs in the final week was between Fine Gael’s Avril Doyle and her party colleague Mairead McGuinness in Leinster. But this was laughed off when the spat helped both to be elected. Elsewhere, when the tallies became clear, the uproar was in the Fianna Fáil camp around Ireland South.

Outgoing MEP Gerard Collins opened fire on his party colleague, Brian Crowley, claiming Independent Kathy Sinnott would not have won her seat had the constituency been divided up effectively.

She narrowly out-polled the former Fianna Fáil minister and when he did not pick up enough transfers she held out.

It was the first time the constituency was a three-seater and went to vote without county Clare, which had been annexed to the old Connaught/Ulster area.

But the geographic shift was excessively dramatic. With Collins losing his seat, Fine Gael’s John Cushnahan not standing and Independent Pat Cox retiring, the balance of power moved south.

In 1999, there were three mid-west MEPs and one from Cork; in 2004, all three came from Cork.

Polls suggest Fianna Fáil’s stalwart, Brian Crowley, will again be king but similar to 2004, when he refused to back off Collins’ territory, he has been campaigning across the board.

It means if the mid-west fights back, it will be Labour’s Alan Kelly who benefits and Cork would be back to having just Crowley. For this reason, he is not inclined to throw running mate Ned O’Keeffe a hand.

Crowley has his own well-drilled army, independent of the Fianna Fáil machine, and draws supporters from all quarters and all neighbourhoods.

In O’Keeffe’s backyard, Crowley’s posters are prominent, particularly in bold Europe blue with the Fianna Fáil logo relegated to a footnote.

O’Keeffe has rallied in marts and rural markets but he does not have the same appeal Collins had in 2004 when he pulled in 15% of the vote.

Besides West Cork, Crowley has a loyal base in Kerry and a canvassing campaigning which locals described as “a machine”.

O’Keeffe cannot get in here but likewise Crowley has not had it all his own way. Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly is a phenomenon in his own right using his sources within the GAA across the five counties, including party loyalists in his running mate’s, Colm Burke, heartland of Cork.

In 2004, Sinnott staged a successful guerrilla war. Across the province she formed alliances with smaller activist groups, especially those involved with marginalised people.

However, these relationships in places such as Limerick and Tipperary appear to have broken down. And without the neighbourhood militias, she has lost a valuable asset.

Results from the local elections show Limerick and Waterford were particularly anti-Government when Sinnott was elected five years ago.

This time Labour first time candidate Alan Kelly is primed to exploit this, especially as both cities have been hit with significant job losses.

Senator Kelly has amounted a significant war-chest ahead of the election and tapped into local celebrities to shore up the top half of the constituency. Along the Shannon River he has erected posters urging people to vote for the mid-west candidate. In his native county he urged people to “put a Tipp man in Europe”.

Sitting MEP Burke has been free to roam Cork city but has only been in Europe for two years and doesn’t have the name recognition his predecessor, Simon Coveney, enjoyed.

Still county Cork is the single biggest voting block, with almost a full quota available, where the two Fianna Fáil candidates are well placed to stymie any hope Burke has of making advances outside the city.

But beyond obstructing the main opposition parties, Crowley will not be willing to cede any vote in Cork which would blot his electoral record.

And regardless of their success, the emergence of the two Kelly’s will tilt the geographic balance one way or another.

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