Local Elections: Constituency thrown open by boundary extensions and candidate withdrawals

In the fourth of a five-part series, Kevin O’Neill profiles the new Cork City electoral area.

Local Elections: Constituency thrown open by boundary extensions and candidate withdrawals

Cork City South-West was thrown wide-open by the changes to its boundary, but also by some internal decisions.

In a big shock, two former Lord Mayors of Cork confirmed they would not be seeking re-election in May: Fianna Fáil’s Mary Shields and Fine Gael’s John Buttimer both announced their intention to step away from public office.

Ms Shields, who was Lord Mayor in 2014, said that the time was right for her to step back from politics, while Mr Buttimer, who has served on the council since being co-opted, in 2007, cited the difficulty of balancing “the requirements of work with the duties and expectations of a public representative.”

The massive expansion of his electoral area would make these duties substantially more demanding.

Their decisions have thrown the constituency wide-open, leaving 3,000 first-preference votes up for grabs.

Many of these are concentrated in the Bishopstown and Wilton areas, which used to form the heart of the constituency.

Previously, securing even half of these votes would have been enough for a quota, but the significant expansion of the local electoral area has left all parties, and non-party candidates, with big questions about tickets and strategies.

Unlike in some of the other city districts — namely, Cork City South-East, which has very defined strategies for all the bigger parties — there are some very busy tickets already in place.

Fine Gael set their stall out early, with four candidates selected to run.

Cllr PJ Hourican will run again in Cork South-West. He will be hopeful of bettering his tally of first preferences from 2014, when he got just 301.

He made it over the line on transfers on the eighth count, taking the fifth seat.

Mr Hourican is a veteran councillor, who has served on and off since 1992.

Former County Mayor Cllr Derry Canty will join him on the ticket.

Representing the Ballincollig end of the constituency, Mr Canty was elected in the 10-seater Ballincollig-Carrigaline municipal area of Cork County Council in 2014 and will be optimistic of repeating that.

He was among the most vocal people in discussions of the city extension, nailing his colours to the mast as the Ballincollig candidate some time ago.

Joining Mr Hourican and Mr Canty on the ticket are first-time candidate, Sinead Ronan, representing the city end of the constituency, and Garrett Kelleher, who missed out on a seat on Cork County Council by just a dozen votes in 2014.

It is a strong statement by Fine Gael to target four of the seven seats in the expanded local electoral area, but they have form.

In 2014, two of their five sitting councillors were elected in the south-west. In each of 2009 and 2004, they snagged two of the seats.

Cork City South-West local election posters for Colette Finn and Thomas Kiely. Picture: Dan Linehan
Cork City South-West local election posters for Colette Finn and Thomas Kiely. Picture: Dan Linehan

The strategy of splitting candidates between the city end and the Ballincollig end of the ward is replicated by all the major parties.

Fianna Fáil will have city councillor and former Deputy Lord Mayor Fergal Dennehy running again.

Mr Dennehy will be seeking to collect his vote from the Togher end of the constituency and will be optimistic about securing some of the Wilton and Bishopstown votes left spare by the retirement of Mary Shields.

He is joined on a three-strong ticket by county councillor Daithí Ó Donnabháin and businessman Colm Kelleher, of Kelleher’s Tyres, both of whom are from the Ballincollig end of the ward.

It is widely expected that a fourth candidate will be added, if someone in the Bishopstown or Wilton area is available to secure many of the votes formerly intended for Mary Shields.

Sinn Féin, too, has adopted that same approach for sorting out their ticket.

Cllr Henry Cremin, a Bishopstown resident, will be joined by teacher Eolan Ryng on the ticket.

Originally from Bishopstown, Mr Ryng lives in Ballincollig.

From here, there are eyes on Cllr Thomas Moloney, the current Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork.

An Independent councillor, Mr Moloney took the last seat, ahead of fellow Independent, Thomas Kiely, in 2014, by just two votes.

He will be hopeful that his more visible profile as Deputy Lord Mayor and, indeed, his work over the last five years, will avoid a repeat in May of such a close call.

Among those eyeing up his seat will be Mr Kiely, who has confirmed his intention to run again.

Aligning himself closely with the housing rights campaign, Mr Kiely is one of a large number of candidates hoping to take advantage of the expansion of the local electoral area and the congestion among the major parties.

Shirley Griffin, another non-party candidate who has tied herself to the housing rights and reform campaign, is among them. She is a Ballincollig resident.

In 2014, Labour ran Cllr Ger Gibbons in a bid to secure a seat but, as was the case throughout the city, the support was thin and the party missed out.

They secured no seats on Cork City Council and will be hopeful that Ciara Kennedy can reverse their fortunes in Cork South-West.

From Lehenaghmore, Ms Kennedy cut her teeth in Cork politics as a canvass leader for the Together for Yes campaign, during last year’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Cork City South-West was often a strong constituency for Labour.

In 2009, the party secured two seats and they will be hopeful that they can end their spell out of council.

With seven seats up for grabs — and potentially a lot of transfers — this may represent one of their best options.

While candidates in other areas, such as Peter Horgan in Blackrock, may be better-known to some, they are up against stiff competition when it comes to the ballot paper, in terms of sitting councillors.

Ms Kennedy — and all those currently running for the first time — can take solace in the fact that there are seven seats available and just six sitting councillors competing.

In comparison with the new south-east local electoral area, which has eight councillors competing for six seats, it is a potentially promising situation for a newcomer.

The Social Democrats will be hoping to secure their first seat in Cork city. The party has selected Ciaran McCarthy, a barrister and lecturer, to run in Cork City South West. Mr McCarthy is a Bishopstown native living in Ballincollig.

It is the first time the Social Democrats will have taken part in a local election having formed in 2015 but the party can count County Councillor Joe Harris among their ranks already and will be keen to make their presence felt in the new, expanded Cork city.

The Green Party has backed UCC lecturer Collette Finn in their efforts to secure a seat on the council. It will be her first run.

Tjitske de Vries will run for People Before Profit; Joanne Murphy will run for Aontú, the new party founded by former Sinn Féin TD, Peadar Tóibín; and Dr Lekha Menon Margassery, a microbiologist, has also announced a run and will choose between the South-West and South-Central wards in the coming weeks.

For the non-party candidates and those from smaller parties, Cork city south-west represents both a challenge and an opportunity.

Typically, it has been dominated by the major parties. Fine Gael have secured two seats in each of the last four local elections, with Fianna Fáil doing so in 1999, 2004, and 2014.

Labour enjoyed strong showings in 1999, 2004, and 2009, too.

In fact, Thomas Moloney’s election in 2014 is the only time an independent candidate has been elected in the south-west since 1991.

But, with two high-profile candidates out of the equation and seven seats up for grabs, there is potential for significant change in the south-west.

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