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Is this Cork constituency the most unpredictable in the general election?

Three of the four TDs elected in Cork North Central in 2016 will not be on the ballot.

CORK NORTH-CENTRAL may well be the most open constituency in the upcoming general election, whenever it does happen.

Three of the four TDs elected in 2016 are not seeking re-election, so we can expect some new faces in the Dáil coming from Cork’s northside.

One of those new faces, Fianna Fáil’s Pádraig O’Sullivan, has already taken his seat in Leinster House after winning November’s by-election, but two more TDs will have to wait until the general election.

So how did we get here?

In the 2016 general election, Cork North-Central elected four male TDs from different parties. They were:

  • Billy Kelleher (Fianna Fáil)
  • Dara Murphy (Fine Gael)
  • Jonathan O’Brien (Sinn Féin)
  • Mick Barry (Solidarity-People Before Profit) 

Last year, Kelleher was elected as an MEP for Ireland South and therefore forfeited his Dáil seat.

Fine Gael’s Murphy resigned his seat last month in highly-controversial circumstances after claiming his full allowance while he was largely absent from Dáil over the past two years. An investigation into Murphy’s attendance is still uncertain due to his unwillingness to present himself to an inquiry

The third TD who won’t be returning is Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien.

O’Brien announced yesterday that he will finish out his term in the Dáil and remain in the party but won’t be seeking re-election.  

Who are the new faces looking to take over?

We already have one replacement after Kelleher’s seat went to party colleague O’Sullivan in the recent by-election.

O’Sullivan pulled in an impressive 28% of the vote and will therefore fancy his chances in the general election, with the possibility that the party could even fight for a second seat. 

9309 Micheal Martin Pádraig O'Sullivan (right) alongside party leader Micheál Martin. Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

In Murphy’s case, we don’t really have time to hold a by-election.

Due to new legislation brought in as a result of a 2010 High Court ruling, by-elections must be held within six months of a Dáil seat being vacated.

Given that Murphy resigned at the beginning of December, that would bring things up to the beginning of May. As a general election is likely to be called before then, a by-election will not happen.

Instead, Murphy’s seat will be up for grabs along with the 157 others around the country, Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl already being safe.  

Even before Murphy’s resignation, Fine Gael already announced two other candidates for the next general election. Senator Colm Burke will be contesting the election in Cork North-Central along with Lorraine O’Neill.

Burke also ran in the recent by-election, polling in second place behind O’Sullivan with 21.1% of the vote, before eventually finishing in third place.

90371494 Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Not being elected could be a considered a disappointment for a sitting senator but winning over a fifth of the vote was a better performance than Murphy had managed in 2016 and suggests there is a Fine Gael seat in the area. 

For Sinn Féin, the party’s likely candidate in the general election following O’Brien’s decision not to run is Councillor Thomas Gould.

Gould won 19.7% of first preferences in the recent by-election and won enough transfers to eventually finish in second place.

The result was a positive showing for the party in an area where they have a number of councillors and have been strong in recent years. 

1472 Solidarity - PBP Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Mick Barry. Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

With a number of likely candidates raising their profiles in the recent by-election, sitting TD Mick Barry will face strong competition when the general election does happen.

Barry took the second seat in the 2016 general election but locally it’s now being suggested that he could be in a battle for the fourth seat this time out.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Barry acknowledged it will be a tight race.

“I think the success that we contributed to in knocking Fine Gael back on water charges, I think the positive role that we played in winning Repeal and I think our association with housing action, including the successful defeat of evictions, will stand to us,” he said.

We’re fighting to defend a strong left campaigning voice for working class people in Cork North-Central and we believe we’re in a serious fight but we’re confident we can win that fight.

If the fourth seat does end up being a battle with Barry and potentially Fianna Fáil, Labour could be in the mix too.

Former minister Kathleen Lynch is part of a strong pedigree for the party in the area and Labour Councillor John Maher won 9.7% of the vote in the recent by-election, coming in fourth place.

Maher is all-but-certain to be Labour’s candidate in the general election and says he has been working hard in the locality for a number of years.

We may not have had a seat in Dáil Éireann in the last four years but we’ve been working on the ground for the community and hope that will pay off. Going on the by-election result we’re hopeful. We’ve a lot of work to do, we’re taking nothing for granted and that’s what’s been wrong in Cork North-Central, when people assume there is a seat there partywise.

“I think that the candidates and parties will go out and fight it on what they’ve been doing and if you can stand up for the working people I think that’s the right way.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday that he plans to meet with Micheál Martin at the end of the week when the date of the general election will be on the agenda. 

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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