As TDs jump ship, loss of FF ‘safe seats’ does not bode well

“THE House is my oldest home.” — Using the words of John F Kennedy, Brian Cowen yesterday described his feelings for the Dáil which he was leaving after 27 years.

The curtains had fallen and it was time to get off the stage.

Brian Cowen took the uneasy step away from the life he has known and decided not to contest the seat he held in Laois-Offaly since his father’s death in 1984.

His retirement brought to 38 the number of TDs who have decided not to contest this forthcoming election, compares to 19 incumbent TDs who retired ahead of the 2007 election. Back then, 12 were from Fianna Fáil, compared to 21 so far — this time around and the grand exodus brings mixed blessings for the party.

Its share of the vote has become too small to give quotas to two sitting TDs in some constituencies. So the retirement of one will give the other a better chance of re-election.

But in other cases, the departure of long-standing TDs means the loss of “safe seats” that Fianna Fáil could have banked on.

Here is what the resignations will mean:

Brian Cowen: Last week one of Brian Cowen’s constituency colleagues was caught off guard by a Dáil microphone whispering that the party would be in “fierce trouble” in Laois- Offaly if the Taoiseach did not run.

Sean Fleming muttered that with Mr Cowen on the ticket “we have a seat in the bag before we even start”.

With more than 19,000 votes in the 2007 election Mr Cowen was always certain to pull in one, if not two running mates.

His decision not to seek re-election lead to speculation that his running mate, John Moloney, will also pull out, and means Fianna Fáil has now gone from two definite seats there to just one.

Bertie Ahern (Dublin Central): It once hosted the best electoral machine in the country, but Dublin Central will be a different political landscape in the post-Ahern era.

His announcement at Christmas that he would not seek re-election came as no surprise.

While Ahern will once again throw his weight behind former running-mate Cyprian Brady. But the Ahern dynasty over, if the party has any chance of holding a seat here, it will be in Mary Fitzpatrick who was shafted by Ahern on previous occasions.

Noel Ahern (Dublin North-West): One of the only TDs to admit he was retiring because he feared losing his seat. Bertie’s brother, once one of the highest polling TDs in the country, said either he or Pat Carey would have to step down if the party had any chance of keeping one of its two seats in Dublin North West.

Despite private polling showing Mr Ahern ahead of the higher profile minister, he stepped down leaving Mr Carey more likely, but not certain, of getting back in.

Noel Dempsey (Meath West): His departure means the loss of one guaranteed seat for Fianna Fáil. But unlike in other places — the removal of one Fianna Fáil TD will not make the other — in this case Johnny Brady — any safer.

Instead, Mr Dempsey’s departure leaves an opening for the Labour Party.

Tony Killeen (Clare): Before the former defence minister announced his intention to retire, Fianna Fáil was in with a chance of winning two seats in Clare.

But after Mr Killeen’s announcement that he would not be standing because of his bowel cancer diagnosis, the best Fianna Fáil can hope for here is for Timmy Dooley to take one seat.

Batt O’Keeffe (Cork North-West): He got the third and last seat here in 2007 and his chances of hanging in were looking slimmer this time around, with Fine Gael threatening to take two out of three.

Mr O’Keeffe’s departure leaves breathing space for the other Fianna Fáil TD, Michael Moynihan.

Michael Finneran (Roscommon-South Leitrim): This retirements leaves the constituency as one of four around the country which does not have a sitting Fianna Fáil TD running.

Combined with the refusal of Rachel Doherty — daughter of the late Justice Minister Sean Doherty — to let her name go forward at convention, Fianna Fáil faces a big struggle to keep a seat where it was already second to Fine Gael in the last election.

Seán Ardagh (Dublin South-Central): After Mr Ardagh’s decision to step down from politics for health reasons, Fianna Fáil left Michael Mulcahy as the only candidate on the ticket. But with no serving Fianna Fáil councillors in the area, it’s unlikely there will be one, never mind two seats.

Dr Jimmy Devins (Sligo-North Leitrim): He rejoined the party fold recently after resigning the party whip in August 2009 over local cancer services. But with the party set to return just one seat here, it’s unlikely his departure will have any impact on its ailing fortunes.

Beverly Flynn (Mayo): Her announcement marks the end of another Fianna Fáil dynasty. It means that any votes left over by Enda Kenny who could bring in three running mates, will go to Fianna Fáil up and coming star, Dara Calleary.

Tom Kitt (Dublin South):

Between them, Tom Kitt and the late Seamus Brennan got over 40% of the vote in 2007 and while some of their votes are still there to be swept up, the party believes it does not have a strong enough candidate in Senator Maria Corrigan to do so.

Having failed to convince either Barry Andrews or Mary Hanafin to parachute in here, Kitt’s departure will leaves an opportunity for Fine Gael

MJ Nolan (Carlow Kilkenny): He was one of three Fianna Fáil TDs elected in the five-seater in 2007, with Fine Gael and the Greens sharing the other two. This time, Fianna Fáil are likely to take one seat and battle it out for the second.

Had he stayed, the party would have had a better chance of picking up a seat in each county. But his retirement leaves a geographical problem, two remaining Fianna Fáil TDs —Bobby Aylward and John McGuinness both from the Kilkenny half of the constituency.

Noel O’Flynn (Cork North Central): The new leader of Fianna Fáil showed his ruthless streak by asking the TD of 14 years to fall on his sword to ensure all Fianna Fáil votes in Cork North Central go to the up- and-coming Fianna Fáil man with ministerial ambitions, Billy Kelleher.

The polling data and local election results suggested Fianna Fáil would retain only one of its two seats in the constituency and if both men ran, it would have resulted in the vote being split and neither getting elected. In the end, O’Flynn did what was asked of him and made a sacrifice for the party.

Ned O’Keeffe (Cork East): The veteran vote winner polled over 10,000 first-preferences in the last election. But so did his running mate, Michael Ahern. And with the party vote dropping sharply in the area, there was only room for one of them this time around.

O’Keeffe saw it as the right time to bow out and allow his son, Councillor Kevin O’Keeffe, to be put on the ticket.

Noel Treacy (Galway East): Fianna Fáil has never gone below two seats in the predictable Galway East constituency. The party is still polling high but it was still going to be a battle to win a second seat.

Dr Michael Woods (Dublin North-East): After 33 years as a Dáil deputy, Woods announced shortly after his 75th birthday that he would retire, leaving no sitting Fianna Fáil TD contesting a seat in Dublin North East.

Out with the old means in with the new and the party is hoping Averil Power can poll strongly.

John Cregan (Limerick West): One of four Limerick TDs who was not appointed to the Fianna Fáil front bench by Micheál Martin earlier this week, he said the playing field was “no longer level”.

He was already in difficulty of holding his seat because boundary changes meant a loss of a portion of his support base. His retirement means Niall Collins will not have to share any votes, securing his chances of re-election.

Niall Blaney (Donegal North East): Fianna Fáil are still reeling after the shock announcement by Mr Blaney through a letter to his selection convention that he would not be putting his name forward.

His decision means Fianna Fáil — which got 50% of the vote and two seats in the constituency 2007 — will struggle to get any.

Dr Rory O’Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan): With the threat of Fianna Fáil losing two, if not three seats in his constituency, its no surprise that the former Ceann Comhairle decided not to face the fight of this election.

Dermot Ahern (Louth): This will be a loss for Fianna Fáil as the former justice minister had been considered a safe seat.

The constituency goes from four to five seats, and the other Fianna Fáil TD Ceann Comhairle, Seamus Kirk, will be automatically re-elected meaning they had a good chance here despite the arrival of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.

Mary Wallace (Meath East): The announcement by the former junior minister that she would not contest the election, has boosted her constituency mate Thomas Byrne’s prospects of retaining his seat.

OTHER TDs NOT RUNNING

Fine Gael: Bernard Allen (Cork North-Central); Ulick Burke (Galway East); Paul Connaughton (Galway East); Seymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan); Olwyn Enright (Laois-Offaly); Padraic McCormack (Galway West); Jim O’Keeffe (Cork South-West) and PJ Sheehan (Cork South-West).

Labour: Michael D Higgins (Galway West); Brian O’Shea (Waterford); Liz McManus (Wicklow) and Mary Upton (Dublin South-Central).

Sinn Féin Arthur Morgan (Louth).

Independents: Mary Harney (Dublin Mid-West) and Jackie Healy-Rae (Kerry South).

Already left the Dáil: Martin Cullen (Fianna Fáil, Waterford) and Dr James McDaid (Fianna Fáil, Donegal North-East).

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