Harty’s departure prompts scramble for fourth Clare seat

The departure of Michael Harty, who was elected an Independent TD in 2016 after running a successful ‘No Doctor, No Village’ campaign, now makes Clare an interesting one to watch.

Harty’s departure prompts scramble for fourth Clare seat

The departure of Michael Harty, who was elected an Independent TD in 2016 after running a successful ‘No Doctor, No Village’ campaign, now makes Clare an interesting one to watch.

A scramble for the fourth seat is now on the cards, meaning transfers and tight vote management will be key.

Clare has traditionally been a Fianna Fáil stronghold and the party has consistently held at least two of the seats on offer since it became a four-seater in 1981.

However, this changed in 2011 when Fine Gael became the dominant party, securing two seats.

Fianna Fáil will this time be seeking to claim back that second seat, which they regard as theirs.

Sitting TD Timmy Dooley has a strong profile. His is seen as the safest seat and he could again top the poll.

Mr Dooley was stripped of his front-bench role after he became embroiled in the vote-gate scandal in the Dáil last October. Despite this, the controversy which was a major embarrassment for Fianna Fáil is unlikely to have any material impact on the number of votes he receives.

The party has put forward two other candidates.

Mayor Cathal Crowe is seen as the stronger contender, but his biggest challenger is likely to come from within his own ranks, from Rita McInerney. She is likely to gain a chunk of the votes on offer in the west of the constituency as a result of the departure of Dr Harty.

Another tense battle is expected among the three Fine Gael contestants, who know they only have a realistic chance of securing two Dáil seats.

Along with sitting TDs Pat Breen and Joe Carey, Fine Gael has put forward senator Martin Conway.

The party did extremely well to win two seats in 2016, given the fact that it secured just 26% of first preference votes.

With a long career behind him in the Seanad, Mr Conway could unseat one of his party colleagues, and some see Mr Breen as the weakest link.

He came under sustained fire over the broadband controversy in 2018, when it was revealed that he met with David McCourt, head of the only consortium left in the running for the National Broadband Plan tender, on a number of occasions.

Mr Breen also arranged for then-communications minister Denis Naughten to attend dinner at Mr McCourt’s home in Co Clare.

Having left the Labour party earlier this year, former TD Michael McNamara is running as an Independent.

While guaranteed to gain large support among farmers, he has entered the race relatively late in the day and may not gain enough momentum before polling day to make a difference.

Joseph Woulfe, who came to prominence through the Beef Plan Movement, could also put a dent in Mr McNamara’s prospects.

As in many other constituencies, the Green Tide cannot be dismissed and the party is running local councillor Róisín Garvey. She is certainly one to watch.

The exit of Dr Harty, who was the real story of the 2016 general election in Co Clare, now makes it more than likely that the constituency will return two Fine Gael and two Fianna Fáil TDs this time.

However, there is an appetite for a strong alternative. An independent or member of a smaller party could take a seat if they can gain enough traction during what will be a short campaign.

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