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Battle lines and cantering elephants: Here's how Election 2014 is shaping up in Ireland South...

Ten counties. Four seats. Exactly 96 hours until the polls open.

Ireland Sth Source: Nicky Ryan/TheJournal.ie

THREE DAYS OUT from D-Day, there’s still an intense battle going on for the final seat in the massive Ireland South constituency.

Candidates will be blitzing the ten county constituency in the coming days, in a bid to shore up as much support as possible across an electoral area that covers the entire southern half of the country — from the outer-Dublin suburbs of north Wicklow to the wilds of west Kerry.

Friday’s election provides a chance for voters to send a clear message on what they make of the current coalition. Issues like water charges and jobs have been the main topics of conversation on the canvass — and while Labour look set to lose out as a result of growing dissatisfaction with the coalition, Fine Gael appear on course to secure two of the four seats up for grabs.

To date, the incident that’s created most headlines in the battle for the south has been sitting Labour MEP’s decision to press the red button and call for her party leader to quit. Phil Prendergast’s surprise move (which, admittedly, gained her acres of coverage in the wake of a poor poll showing) resulted in a short-term bump in support, but she’s been polling back between 5 and 6 per cent in recent days.

The situation’s created some awkward moments in the last few weeks. Prendergast’s declaration that she viewed Eamon Gilmore not just as the elephant in the room, but as an elephant “cantering around the room breaking things” didn’t stop her appearing beside her leader at a manifesto launch last week. Asked by reporters, she confirmed “I stand by what I said” while noting that it had been a “difficult time”.

Back to Brussels

At the other end of a crowded field, Fianna Fáil’s perennially popular Brian Crowley is well on course to top the polls once again. A number of surveys, conducted weeks apart, showed the veteran MEP poised to romp home with a massive lead over his nearest rivals. His surplus is likely to have a major bearing on the final complexion of the constituency.

While the addition of Leinster’s eastern counties in the recent re-drawing of boundaries doesn’t appear to have hampered brand Crowley, it’s created some major headaches for Fine Gael over the last few weeks. The party’s running three candidates — with Senator Deirdre Clune, from Cork, and Wicklow TD Simon Harris both snapping at the heels of sitting MEP Sean Kelly.

[Dave Nowak Photography]

The situation’s led to some discord between the candidates, who theoretically signed-up to a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy — each were supposed to play to their geographical strengths, canvassing and making local media appearances within clearly demarcated areas, with only Tipperary and Waterford deemed ‘up for grabs’ by all three.

‘A nightmare’

The plan hasn’t worked out in practice, however, and candidates’ representatives have regularly accused their competitors of encroaching into rival territory. One campaign source said trying to manage the vote in the constituency had been “a nightmare”.

Despite all the sniping — Enda Kenny’s party look on course to send Kelly, a former GAA President, back to Brussels. Based on the latest polls Clune looks most likely to join him, though Harris isn’t too far behind.

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

New hopeful

Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada, a political newcomer, has been polling strongly since the start of the campaign proper — reflecting the national pattern of growing support for her party. The former TV producer and daughter of composer Sean is on 19 per cent in the latest poll, 12 behind Crowley. She’ll be aiming to cover as much ground as possible over the next few days, however, given that SF rarely do well when it comes to transfers.

In terms of the other candidates — first-time Green candidate and former Rainbow Warrior activist Grace O’Sullivan has put in an encouraging performance for the party. Her poll numbers hit 7 per cent in yesterday’s Irish Times survey, putting her one ahead of Prendergast.

Down among the single digits, campaigner Diarmud O’Flynn of ‘Ballyhea says No’ has been the highest profile candidate of the bunch. While he’s insisted his campaign is not a symbolic one, the Irish Examiner journalist is unlikely to be in the mix come Sunday night when the results are officially announced.

Kieran Hartley is the second FF candidate running in the area, but the Waterford-based businessman’s campaign never really got off the ground — he was at just 2 per cent in the Times poll. Also on the ballot on Friday will be non-party candidates Richard Cahill, Jillian Godsil, and Peter O’Loughlin — along with Theresa Heaney (Catholic Democrats), Dónal Ó Ríordáin of Fís Nua and Jan van de Ven of Direct Democracy Ireland.

And finally, sheep…

The main candidates have an intense few days ahead, as they aim to hit as many shopping centres, sporting events and local radio stations as possible before the polls open at 7am on Friday.

And if you happen to be in the Gorey area in the latter half of the week, you can expect to see a few familiar political figures. Tens of thousands of spectators are due in the area for the international sheep-shearing championships, the ‘Golden Shears‘.

Read: Here’s how Election 2014 is shaping up in Dublin

Read: Here’s how Election 2014 is shaping up in Midlands North West

Read all our Election 2014 coverage here > 

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