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In 'Jack Lynch territory' Fianna Fáil are hoping for success: The Cork North Central lowdown

The runners and riders in the Cork North Central by-election.

Counting votes at the Cork City Hall at the 2016 general election.
Counting votes at the Cork City Hall at the 2016 general election.
Image: Chris Radburn/PA Archive/PA Images

AHEAD OF THE four by-elections taking place in two weeks’ time, we’re profiling each of the constituencies.

Today, we’re focusing on Cork North Central. 

The by-election on 29 November is taking place after Billy Kelleher, one of the four TDs for the constituency, was elected to the European Parliament for Ireland South back in May. 

Kelleher’s departure for Brussels leaves a gap in the four-seater constituency. 

Who’s running?

There are currently 10 candidates running in the constituency. 

In alphabetical order: 

Colm Burke (Fine Gael)

James Coughlan (Workers’ Party)

Thomas Gould (Sinn Féin)

Sinéad Halpin (Social Democrats)

Thomas Kiely (Housing Rights and Reform Alliance)

John Maher (Labour)

Oliver Moran (Green Party)

Padraig O’Sullivan (Fianna Fáil)

Fiona Ryan (Solidarity-People Before Profit)

Finian Toomey (Aontú)

Local councillor O’Sullivan, as the Fianna Fáil candidate, is the favourite to take the seat. 

The last time Burke contested the constituency was in a by-election in 1994. Twenty five years later, Burke is now a senator, a former MEP and an established politician locally.

Maher is a Labour Party councillor looking to take the seat formerly occupied by Kathleen Lynch, who lost her seat at the 2016 election after 14 years as a TD. 

Councillor Gould, who contested the constituency unsuccessfully in 2016, will fight the election for Sinn Féin. 

Moran is a local councillor who was elected for the first time to Cork City Council in May. He ran unsuccessfully in the constituency in 2016.

Halpin contested the local election for the Social Democrats in May. 

Fiona Ryan, fighting the election for Solidarity-People Before Profit, will be seeking to emulate the success of TD Mick Barry at the last election. Ryan, who is a councillor, ran for a seat in Cork South Central in 2016. 

Toomey also contested the local elections in May under Peader Tóibín’s Aontú banner. 

Coughlan ran for the Workers’ Party in the Cork North West ward in the 2014 local elections, while Kiely is one of several members of the Cork-based Housing Rights and Reform Alliance. 

Who are the current TDs?

The four-seat constituency had been a safe seat for Billy Kelleher since the early 2000s after he was first elected in 1997. 

While traditionally seen as Fianna Fáil heartland – back in 2002 the party picked up three seats in what was then a five-seater constituency – Cork North Central has recently thrown up an unpredictable combination of candidates.

13968 Billy Kelleher, who was elected to the European Parliament in May, had been a TD in Cork since 1997. Source: Eamonn Farrell/

However, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have typically taken at least a seat in the area.

The 2016 election produced a somewhat surprising result, with Solidarity-People Before Profit’s Mick Barry coming a comfortable second in the constituency to unseat Labour. 

Alongside Barry, Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien and Fine Gael’s Dara Murphy make up the other TDs in the constituency. 

What are the main issues candidates will be talking about?

Locally, candidates have been questioned on the new Cork hospital, the site of which is due to be selected by the end of 2019. 

There have been hopes that the hospital could be built on the north side of Cork, so the stance of any new TD on the issue is seen as particularly important. 

Similarly, candidates in the large constituency have had their views canvassed on a mooted ring road for the northern part of the city – a long-term plan that has yet to come to fruition. 

One of the challenges for the candidates is that the constituency spreads all the way out beyond the city, reaching nearly as far as Mallow – meaning politicians need to appeal to both urban and rural voters. 

Alan Healy, the deputy news editor of the Echo in Cork, said Cork North Central is viewed as “Jack Lynch territory”. 

The shadow of the former Fianna Fáil taoiseach still hangs over the area and Healy said that to lose the seat would be a major embarrassment for Fianna Fáil. 

“It is pure Cork in many ways,” Healy says. “It’s very much a Fianna Fáil seat. To lose it would be a major body blow.”

This doesn’t mean that the by-election result is a foregone conclusion. Fine Gael’s Burke is well known locally, says Healy and has “got to be a contender”. 

“It will be interesting to see how Oliver Moran of the Green Party fares,” Healy added. 

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When is polling day?

People in Cork North Central will be able to vote on 29 November after the writ on the election was moved earlier this month. 

When will we know the result?

Counting will begin in Cork on 30 November, so we should know the result – barring any unforeseen events – quickly enough. 

With only one seat to count, it should be a much quicker process than a normal general election. 

Anything of note happened on the trail so far?

It’s been a quiet election so far, with little drama and no Twitter controversies to speak of. 

There was an early clash between the Green Party and Sinn Féin, as Gould suggested that the by-election was a three-way battle between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and his party. 

Unsurprisingly, the Greens took issue with that analysis and Moran said that his party, which enjoyed strong results at the local and European elections in May, were in contention. 

But even if there has been little drama so far, there is still time for the election to heat up with two weeks left in the race. 

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