No southern comfort in sprawling ward

YOU want a slice of Ireland today? Come to Carrigaline. Down on Main St, the Turkish barber has closed up and left town.

No southern comfort in sprawling ward

Next to where he used to cut hair, Nelly’s café has also shut its doors. But just down the road, Boylesport is announcing it is “now open at 9am, Mon-Sat”. Traditional retailing is under pressure, but the appetite for a flutter appears to be greater now in these straitened times.

Putting money on the Euro elections, however, is not top of the list. There appears to be little interest in who goes to Brussels on foot of an electoral mandate on May 23. Downtown Carrigaline is top heavy with election posters, but nearly all are for the locals, rather than the European franchise. In fact, the electoral issue that is to the fore is the splitting of the town into separate local constituencies along the line of the Owenbue river.

Not that the town doesn’t have its own political big noises. Both Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, and Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath (leader in waiting?) have offices on Main St, but really, the faint pulse of interest in the forthcoming polls is all about the locals.

The town exhibits the scars and hope that is prevalent across the country today. The population of 17,000 went through the roof in the bubble years as young couples fled from the soaring city house prices. What evolved was the population of a medium sized town with the infrastructure of a village. Then, when it was getting its act together, the whole shebang came down.

A planned major town centre on 30 acres off the main street was shelved. Today, the site retains its green grass, but rumour has it the earth-moving machines have been awoken from their recessionary slumber, and are itching to get cracking.

In contrast to many urban hubs, Carrigaline is under serviced by retail, and the rumours of an upturn have seen some action in that department. While the traditional and smaller retailers got it between the eyes in the downturn, the big boys are moving in. Aldi opened recently, and Lidl is coming to town. The pharmacy chain Boots is also on the way. “When a multinational like Boots comes to town, it is a great sign of confidence,” says local businessman Denis McBarron.

The property market is also on an upward curve. “It’s actually becoming economical to build in Carrigaline again,” he says, referencing a residential market that has seen a surge of up to 30% since the start of the year.

That’s life in one town in the sprawling 10 county South constituency. They haven’t seen much of the candidates in Carrigaline yet, but the biggest obstacle there, as elsewhere, will be apathy.

And what of the runners and riders? In the South, Brian Crowley is king. Any idea that the expansion of the constituency might eat into his vote have been scotched. He will get elected with little bother, letting the rest of them fight it out among themselves.

Name recognition is a major factor. Where Liadh Ní Riada differs from her fellow photogenic Sinn Féin candidates is that she is the daughter of Seán, the man who gave us Mise Éire and plenty else besides. That factor, combined with the current popularity of the party should see her well placed to take a seat, but it’s no certainty.

Then we come to the pantomime being performed by the main ruling party in this constituency. The man in possession, Seán Kelly is under some pressure from party scion Deirdre Clune, and, to a lesser extent, the recently born Simon Harris, possibly the youngest fogey to turn out for the Blueshirts since James Dillon.

Clune is tearing through her family’s fortune — she is a daughter of Peter Barry of the tea merchants — and finding out whether money can buy an election. She has been shelling out on ads which show her posing with various heads, including her father, Manuel Barroso, and Liam Cosgrave.

She takes a good snap, and looks particularly energetic and youthful when posing with men negotiating their winter years.

The unwieldy constituency, allied to growing apathy ensures seats will be snaffled from a compressed electorate voting on little more than party affiliation and name recognition.

Meanwhile, down at ground level, Seán ‘Darby O’Gill’ Kelly is patiently making his way through the little people. The expansion of the constituency into the south Leinster counties won’t phase a man who has extensive contacts in the GAA, since he served as president of the organisation.

Master Harris has a tougher task. He is venturing south from Wicklow. He is trading on his youth and prospects, but most likely his campaign will end without a seat, but with an enhanced status within his party.

Labour candidate is sitting MEP Phil Prendergast, who was nominated to take Alan Kelly’s seat when he was elected to the Dáil in 2011. It could well be that Clune’s high spending campaign is taking a leaf out of Kelly’s book, as he was a great man to splash the cash ahead of his election in 2009.

Of the others, Diarmuid O’Flynn could prove to be a dark horse. Running on a “Ballyhea to Brussels” slogan, he is the figurehead of the Ballyhea burning the bondholder protest that has endured since March 2011. One thing he has going for him is the huge appeal for Independents that is being reported back from opinion polls and the hustings.

So with Crowley home and hosed, and Kelly likely to be returned, the last two seats will be up for grabs. At the moment, Ní Riada is looking good for one, with the last being fought out between Prendergast, Clune, and O’Flynn.

South line-up

There are 15 candidates contesting four seats in the newly drawn Ireland South constituency which spans two provinces, 10 counties, and four cities.

- Sean Kelly (FG): The Kerry man, below, and former GAA president who ended the ban on foreign games in Croke Park has been an MEP since 2009.

Deirdre Clune (FG): The senator served two Dáil terms having succeeded her father, Peter Barry in 1997.

Simon Harris (FG): The Wicklow TD who has developed a good profile through his work on the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is expected to sweep up votes in Leinster.

Phil Prendergast (Labour): An MEP since being chosen to replace Alan Kelly in 2011, she threw a wobbler early in the campaign when a poor poll showing prompted her to call on her party leader to step down.

Brian Crowley (F): The MEP of 20 years, above, is going for a fifth poll-topping election, and claims that meeting constituents every weekend is more powerful than any social media campaign.

Kieran Hartley (FF): The anti-pylon campaigner from Waterford. His success depends on the unlikely help of Crowley to tow him home with transfers.

Liadh Ní Riada (Sinn Féin): The youngest daughter of the late traditional music icon Sean Ó Riada, and the party’s Irish-language officer.

Grace O’Sullivan (Green Party): The Tramore-based former Greenpeace activist has only become involved in politics in recent months, but will be able to rely on the advice of her sister, Lola O’Sullivan, who is seeking a second term as a Fine Gael member on Waterford County Council.

Diarmuid O’Flynn (Ballyhea Says No): An Irish Examiner sports journalist who set up a protest movement which has marched to burn the bondholders every weekend since March 2011.

Jan Van de Ven (Direct Democracy Ireland): From Avoca in Wicklow, he describes himself as an entrepreneur who has worked in the computer field for over 30 years.

Dónal Ó Ríordáin (Fis Nua): Election pledges include: ending cancer, ending nuclear power, reversing banker bonuses and preventing species extinction.

Theresa Heaney (Catholic Democrats): Campaigning of the importance to Europe of the stay-at-home mother and an objection to plans to remove the mother’s article from the Constitution.

Jillian Godsil (Non-Party): Lost her home and her business after the economic collapse and challenged the Government to allow bankrupts to run for public office.

Richard Cahill (Non-Party): The community activist from Clare has called on parties not to spend money on election candidates.

Peter O’Loughlin (Non-Party): A teacher who is disillusioned with the state of the country and didn’t see any party worth joining.

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