Independents and Sinn Féin are determined to put a new look on the face of national politics in Cork’s three rural Dáil constituencies.
And, although the next general election is about a year away, a picture is emerging of some of those seeking to take a seat in Leinster House.
The Government parties appear to be relying on the tried and tested, but no doubt accept there may be a few casualties along the way.
Sinn Féin, in particular, now has a distinct power base in Cork having shot from one to 10 county councillors in last June’s local elections and the party must feel it will secure an additional seat or two come next spring.
There’s also a feeling among Fianna Fáil supporters that the party can plan its comeback after a real pounding at the last general election. And a number of councillors, some newly-elected, are chomping at the bit, being among some of the first to declare their interest in running.
Meanwhile, with the shifting sands of politics, it’s a new dawn for Independents. Two of them in particular were among the biggest vote-getters in the last local elections and have broadened their base since — which could see them cause an upset.
Cork East (4-seater)
Voters have traditionally elected two TDs from the north of the constituency and two from the south and that’s likely to be repeated next time.
Whether that returns the sitting personnel, or not, is another matter. For years Fianna Fáil had two secure seats with Ned O’Keeffe and Michael Ahern. But with no sitting TD, they will be hoping to capture at least one seat.
Cllr Aaron O’Sullivan, a 28-year-old barrister from Youghal, elected to Cork County Council last summer has announced his intention to seek a nomination. He is the nephew of former Irish rugby coach Eddie O’Sullivan.
Long-serving Cllr Kevin O’Keeffe, son of Ned, has also declared his intention to seek a nomination. He had failed to get elected at the last general election during a massive backlash against Fianna Fáil. Meanwhile, Cllr Frank O’Flynn, a member of FF’s national executive, says he has not yet made a decision.
Sinn Féin, meanwhile, have TD Sandra McLellan with a firm powerbase in the Youghal area and she should be confident of getting re-elected. The party will surely provide her with a running mate in the northern side of the constituency and pundits say it could more likely be Cllr Melissa Mullane (Mallow) rather than Cllr June Murphy (Mitchelstown).
If Mullane is chosen she will certainly have an impact on the vote-getting capability of Labour TD Sean Sherlock. The minister of state could suffer from a public backlash against Labour. However, the damage would have to be considerable to unseat Sherlock.
Fine Gael will run sitting deputies Tom Barry (Mallow) and David Stanton (Midleton). Barry could be the more vulnerable of the two, as his seat will be targeted. Among the challengers will be ex-FG TD, Senator Paul Bradford, husband of Lucinda Creighton who confirmed he will run for her as yet unnamed new party.
Claire Cullinane is the only Independent in the constituency to declare, so far. Like Cllr O’Sullivan she’s a newcomer to Cork County Council, but could benefit being the only Cobh-based candidate.
Cork South West (3-seater)
Three members of Fianna Fáil, including Senator Denis O’Donovan, have already declared their intention to seek the party nomination for the next election.
Although the date of the party’s selection convention has yet to be announced, Senator O’Donovan, a former TD, has declared along with Bandon pair Cllr Margaret Murphy O’Mahony and Gillian Coughlan.
The mayor of County Cork, Cllr Alan Coleman (FF) has not yet declared yet but he could be a frontrunner to join a two-man ticket with Mr O’Donovan. However, with their respective bases in Belgooly and Bantry it leaves the heart of the constituency without an FF candidates.
The decision would benefit, in particular, Fine Gael’s Jim Daly whose strongholds would be Clonakilty and Bandon and, to a lesser extent, Labour’s TD Michael McCarthy who will struggle to retain his seat.
Sinn Féin’s Rachel McCarthy said she will be seeking the nomination and it is expected the Bandon-based county councillor will get the nod. Having one candidate would suggest the party is being notoriously conservative but, despite the national sway towards SF, securing a seat in a traditionally strong FG-FF constituency will be a challenge for all contenders.
The other sitting TD in the constituency, Noel Harrington (FG), based in Castletownbere, could come under considerable pressure from Michael Collins, an Independent who was elected as a poll topper to Cork County Council last June.
Collins, involved in a score of voluntary groups in the region, had more than a 1,000 votes over his nearest rival. Furthermore, a swing towards FF could also see Mr O’Donovan eating into Harrington’s vote.
Cork North West (3-seater)
Sitting Fianna Fáil TD Michael Moynihan, one of the few of his party to retain his seat in 2011, should get across the line comfortably.
The question is: Can the the Fine Gael pair Áine Collins and Michael Creed cling on?
Creed, based in Macroom, secured 22.1% of the last vote with Moynihan, 19.3%, and Collins 17.2%. The latter, an accountant and auditor, possibly envisages the sums stack up against her in the event of a major swing against the government, as could Creed. But it will not be a stroll in the park for any Dáil hopeful intent on making an impact.
Sinn Féin’s sole county councillor Des O’Grady, a newcomer to County Hall, has not yet declared an interest. The rumour mill suggests the party might parachute in its Ireland South MEP Liadh Ní Riada, youngest daughter of the composer and musician Seán O’Riada.
She returned a remarkable vote in the European elections. Although unconfirmed, any mention of her possibly entering the contest will send shockwaves through the other established parties.
Labour, with only two county councillors, have no elected public representatives in the constituency.
If SF can’t make inroads then the only others to benefit from an anti- government vote will be the Independents. One in particular, eyeing up his options, is Cllr John Paul O’Shea, who topped the poll in the Mallow/Kanturk electoral area with a solid 4,374 first preferences at the last local elections. He also has the option of running in Cork East.
However, the Lombardstown man said he would be discussing the matter with his team in the next few weeks and “would make a decision then”.
Meanwhile, Millstreet-based Steven O’Riordan, brother of disability rights campaigner Joanne, has also indicated he will run as an Independent and is, reportedly, actively seeking canvassers to help his campaign.