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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 9 April, 2020
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Is Eoghan Murphy in trouble? Will Shane Ross be smiling? Seven battlegrounds to keep an eye on today

Let’s get counting.

IF THERE’S SOME reward for having to put up with weeks of rampant electioneering and our TV screens being full of politicians, it’s probably ‘THE COUNT’.

The electoral system in Ireland means the election count can (and usually does) go on for days and there’s a wide variety of smaller, interesting stories to go along with the national picture. 

In total, there are 159 seats (excluding the ceann comhairle’s – he gets re-elected automatically) up for grabs across 39 different constituencies.

Some parties are banking on taking multiple seats in one area while others may be hoping to squeeze in on the final count. In short, we’ll be treated to plenty of drama over today and well into next week. 

So with that in mind here are some areas that you might want to keep a specific eye out for. 

Laois-Offaly

laois offaly

This is a fun one. In the last election in 2016 Laois and Offaly were separate constituencies of three seats each. Those two have now been combined, with part of Kildare South moved into its boundaries for good measure. 

It’s a five-seater, so significantly it means that a sitting TD will definitely miss out on re-election. The reason this constituency is particularly noteworthy is that it could well be a bellwether of the number of seats attainable by Fianna Fáil.

The party is running four candidates and will be targeting three of the five seats. Barry Cowen and Seán Fleming are the party’s two sitting TDs and those should be easy wins, but if the party secures a third TD we’ll know it’s on its way to being the largest party. 

That would likely mean that Fine Gael loses a seat here. It has two sitting TDs in the shape of Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and Marcella Corcoran Kennedy. 

Last time out Sinn Féin won two seats over the two constituencies, Brian Stanley and Carol Nolan, but Nolan has since left the party after voting against the holding of the Eighth Amendment referendum.  

Dublin Bay South

dublin bay south

This is an interesting one mainly for the personalities, rather than it being particularly good indicator of what’s going on at a national level. 

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was elected here last time out alongside Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan and the Fine Gael duo of Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Kate O’Connell. 

Whether he likes it or not, Murphy has become the face of his party’s housing policy and if it’s the dominant issue people vote on then he may be at risk of losing his seat.

Losing it would be a big turnaround after he topped the poll in 2016, but with two big Fine Gael names in the race there may not be space for both this time out. 

What may mitigate against that is the fact that Lucinda Creighton is not running this year as she did in 2016 as Renua leader. The former Fine Gael junior minister won over 10% of the first preferences four years ago, so some of that vote could help Fine Gael out. 

If one of the two Fine Gaelers does lose out, former TDs Chris Andrews and Kevin Humphreys would be looking to profit. Sinn Féin’s Andrews is a former Fianna Fáil TD while Humphreys is and always was of Labour. 

Galway West

galway west

A shock TG4 opinion poll suggesting that multiple sitting TDs are in danger of losing their seats threw the cat among the pigeons in this ultra-competitive five seater.

The only thing that looks certain is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are guaranteed one seat each and the battle to secure a second could prove to be a bellwether of the national picture.

Éamon Ó Cuív will safely secure Fianna Fáil’s first with minimal fuss. However, the scrap for the Fine Gael spot looks set to be fierce between two high-profile candidates, junior minister Sean Kyne and Oireachtas committee chairperson Hildegarde Naughton.

The poll forecast that independent Noel Grealish was well down the first preference pecking order but the candidate’s profile will likely see him elected again.

It then looks set to be a battle royale for the final two seats with sitting independent Catherine Connolly and Kyne or Naughton fighting off stiff competition from the Green Party’s Pauline O’Reilly, Fianna Fáil’s Ollie Crowe and Niall Ó Tuathail of the Social Democrats.

Sinn Féin’s Mairéad Farrell lost her seat in last year’s council elections which would suggest that she faces an uphill struggle, but if she performs well it could be evidence that the “Sinn Féin wave” has materialised.

Mayo

mayo

This is the first time since 1951 that there won’t be a Kenny on the ballot paper in Mayo. Former taoiseach Enda and, before him, his father Henry represented the county for over 60 years. 

Fine Gael managed the near-miraculous feat of winning four of five seats in 2011, but four years ago when a seat was removed it had to settle for a 2:2 split with Fianna Fáil. 

Michael Ring has a huge personal vote in the country that used to eclipse even Kenny’s before the latter became Fine Gael leader. The minister has a safe seat here and his running mate on this occasion is former Mayo football captain Alan Dillon

Dillon is from Castlebar and will be hoping to win Kenny’s previous vote but as an first-time candidate it remains to be seen if he can do so. 

On the Fianna Fáil side, the party managed its vote smartly in 2016 to elect both Dara Calleary and Lisa Chambers. Calleary had been at TD since 2007 but it was a first time win for Chambers who has since become a frontbencher.

The challenge to the FF/FG duopoly in Mayo will come from Sinn Féin in the form of Senator Rose Conway-Walsh and Green Party star Saoirse McHugh.  

Conway-Walsh pulled in over 10% of first preferences in 2016 and was fighting for a seat until late in the game, so she will be in a stronger position this time. 

Despite an exit poll prediction that she was in the running for a seat last year, Achill native McHugh didn’t quite get elected as an MEP.

Her profile has arguably grown since that election but the size of the Midlands North-West European constituency makes it difficult to know where to place her in the more local race in Mayo.

If we do see even a mini-Green wave though, McHugh is in a good position to benefit.

Dublin Central

dublin cent

Mary Lou McDonald will top the poll with ease for Sinn Féin in Dublin Central, there’s no question about that.

Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohoe, again, is likely to retain his seat but there is a danger of the party’s vote being split, with running mate Deirdre Duffy likely to pick up votes – her involvement with Together for Yes may paint her as a more progressive Fine Gael choice to indecisive voters.

We can talk about how Gary Gannon (Social Democrats) could take what would potentially be a high-profile seat for his party, and whatever Green wave that materialises might help recently-elected Green councillor Neasa Hourigan along – but all eyes should be on former lord mayor Christy Burke.

Burke is a former Sinn Féin councillor and spent time in prison for IRA membership during the 1970s, when he says he was “an active Republican”.

That’s in the distant past however and he is currently an independent and has been a champion of Dublin’s north inner city for many decades.

He ran unsuccessfully for the Dáil in 1982, 1983, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1997, 2009, 2011, and 2016 – but if this isn’t his year, I don’t know what is.

Firstly, he will be transfer friendly from McDonald as Sinn Féin ride high in the polls (there’s no other Sinn Féin candidate in this constituency).

Secondly, he’s in line for the ‘Gregory vote’, named after the influential inner city TD Tony Gregory. Maureen O’Sullivan (her last-minute grab of the final seat in 2016 was a standout moment of that election) was Gregory’s election agent and took his seat after his death in 2009, but she is not running again

Burke who also worked alongside Gregory, and was even arrested alongside him in 1985, and is sure to receive the votes previously destined for O’Sullivan.

Dublin Rathdown

rathdown

Two words: Shane. Ross. The Minister for Sport was the first candidate elected in 2016 and he led the Independent Alliance into government with Fine Gael.

Ross has had a turbulent time as minister but he’s never kept his eye off his constituency and has benefitted from a lot of publicity over the rescue package for the FAI

It will therefore be interesting to see how his vote holds up when all is said and done. 

Another minister, Josepha Madigan, has a high-profile running mate in Senator Neale Richmond and the Green Party’s deputy leader Catherine Martin was the third person elected in this three-seater in 2016.  

The consistency therefore had no Fianna Fáil representation in the previous Dáil and it could well buck the national trend and stay that way.

Hoping to ensure this doesn’t happen are councillors Deirdre Conroy and Shay Brennan, son of the late former minister Séamus Brennan. 

Meath East

meath east

Another constituency where a big beast could fall is in the three-seater of Meath East. It’s a classic case of where two doesn’t go into one with two ministers perhaps duking it out for one seat. 

Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne was elected on the first count in 2016 with over a quarter of all votes cast and is a safe seat here. 

Following him last time out were Helen McEntee and Regina Doherty of Fine Gael. The two split the party vote well and outlasted Sinn Féin’s Darren O’Rourke. 

With Fine Gael’s vote on the slide there are not as many votes to go around and this means trouble. There has already been reports of discipline breaking down between the pair on constituency level, never a good sign for party hopes. 

Despite Doherty being Minister for Social Protection, McEntee arguably has a higher profile as a Minister of State for European Affairs and is better placed to hold a seat.

One way or another, it’s certainly one to watch.

- With reporting by Céimin Burke (Galway West) and Nicky Ryan (Dublin Central) 

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Rónán Duffy

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