A look at the constituencies where republican candidates could make gains in Thursday’s 26-County election.
Donegal North-East has to be potentially one of the most intriguing constituencies of this election. The build-up here saw make-ups and break-ups long before the election was even called!
It is really all Fianna Fail in Donegal North East at the moment. Sitting FF TDs are Dr James McDaid and Cecilia Keaveney while Independent FF TD Niall Blaney is now on the FF ticket after Independent Fianna Fail rejoined the Fianna Fail family fold.
FF’s attempt at a clean sweep in this three-seater will be tested by Sinn Féin whose candidate Cllr Padraig MacLochlainn is a force to contend with. He took almost 10% of the vote in 2002 but an opinion poll conducted by the Tirconaill Tribune predicts he will significantly increase that and possibly take a seat here.
This is near the top of Sinn Féin’s target constituencies. Pearse Doherty polled 65,000 votes in the European Elections in 2004, way ahead of the first preference vote of the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael candidates.
Fianna Fail have once again Mary Coughlan, the Minister for Agriculture, and Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher as their candidates.
Dinny McGinley is another of those veteran Fine Gael TDs who has been cajoled into standing again, despite having planned to retire. Even with McGinley running again, Fine Gael may have a real battle with Sinn Féin to hold onto the seat.
Tallies taken during the Euro election count showed Doherty polling over 12,000. In the pre-election psychological battle, Jim McDaid, in neighbouring Donegal North East, gave a hostage to fortune, when he predicted Sinn Féin victories in both Donegal constituencies.
Probably the most competitive constituency in the country and possible Sinn Féin’s top target.
Sinn Féin has put in a huge campaign here, and Mary Lou McDonald is set to say hello to the nation by the time the counting is complete.
It seems certain that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will be returned, but -- barring some oddity of proportional representation -- Fianna Fail is likely to be dumped out of their second seat.
Last time FF’s Dermot Fitzpatrick only won his seat by 79 votes from Nicky Kehoe of Sinn Féin. This time MEP Mary Lou McDonald is the Sinn Féin candidate and is expected to take a seat -- at the expense of Fianna Fail or the Labour Party’s Joe Costello.
Patricia McKenna of the Green Party could be in with a chance, while left-wing independent Tony Gregory, who has represented Dublin Central for 25 years, may be lefft clinging onto his seat.
Regrettably, it is likely that Mary Harney, former Tanaiste and Progressive Democrats leader, will be returned, and it seems certain that Fianna Fail will win another of the four seats.
There will be a real battle for the remaining two seats with the Greens, Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Labour and an Independent all in the mix.
Sinn Féin did well here in the local elections, polling almost 4,000 first preferences by Clondalkin-based poll-topper, Shane O’Connor. This time out, 28-year-old Trinity College graduate Joanne Spain is the candidate and the constituency has been targeted.
Another republican candidate here in with a shout is Mick Finnegan of the Workers’ Party. Spain’s chances could depend on the ‘stickiness’ of Finnegan’s transfers, but Sinn Féin seems to be ready for the long haul in any event.
The majority view has it that Noel Ahern - brother of Bertie Ahern - will be re-elected, and that Labour’s Roisin Shortall will also be returning to Leinster House with the assistance of transfers from Fine Gael’s Dr Bill Tormey.
The main question in Dublin North West is whether Dessie Ellis of Sinn Féin can take a seat. On the last occasion, the Finglas man took 18% of the first preference vote, outpolling Shortall.
But he did poorly on transfers that he ended up more than a thousand votes behind the Labour TD. He polled very strongly at the subsequent local elections, taking almost 30% of the Finglas vote.
Sinn Féin is confident that it can take a Dail seat on this occasion. If it does, the most likely loser is Fianna Fail’s Pat Carey.
Local observers say Ellis has certainly been putting in a massive effort.
One possible outcome in Dublin North-East is that FF bigshot Michael Woods could end his 30-year-long Dail career could end in defeat at the hands of Sinn Féin veteran activist Larry O’Toole.
Fine Gael are also looking for a seat here but may end up once again bringing home Labour’s Tommy Broughan.
Sinn Féin has been steadily building up a power base here. In the local elections O’Toole, in the Artane ward, and Killian Forde in Donaghmede both topped the poll with almost 8,000 votes between them, more than a quota in the last general election.
It is all to play for, but Fianna Fail will be relying on a last-minute surge in support to hold on.
Sinn Féin has an outside chance here in another celebrated constituency battle.
A verbal spat on the street between PD rottweiler Michael McDowell and John Gormley of the Green Party provided the most entertainment of the election campaign, to the delight of the assembled media.
In the 2002 contest many expected a repeat of the titanic struggle between McDowell and Gormley of 1997. The Green Party candidate then eventually pipped McDowell for the last seat, after a week of recounts. Last time though, both were elected comfortably, with McDowell topping the poll.
It would be a major upset if either were to lose. Ruairi Quinn only made it in 2002 with less than 12% of the vote, but there is a formidable Labour Party machine here that should ensure his return to Leinster House.
Sinn Féin’s Daithi Doolan is based in the south inner city. He could be a contender for a seat if there is a big national swing to his party.
Sligo North Leitrim
Sligo North Leitrim is one of the new constituencies created by the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2005. Previously Sligo Leitrim, the new constituency now comprises all of Co Sligo and north Co Leitrim including the town of Manorhamilton. The southern part of Leitrim is now part of the new Roscommon South Leitrim Constituency.
At present four TDs represent Sligo Leitrim but only three will be returned from the new constituency. A key factor in the contest this time is the fact that sitting Independent TD and MEP Marian Harkin is not running. Sitting TDs Dr Jimmy Devins of Fianna Fail and John Perry of Fine Gael are likely to be returned without difficulty.
The battle, then, is on for the third seat. Lining up are two Fine Gael candidates, Michael Comiskey and Imelda Henry (the only female candidate in the contest); Jimmy McGarry for the Labour Party and Sinn Féin’s Sean McManus. McManus suffered when his constituency was reduced to a three-seater. He sufferd a heart complaint early in the campaign but one Sligo Weekender poll of 500 voters indicated a greater upset for the main parties with the councillor taking the third seat for Sinn Féin with 14% of the vote.
Fianna Fail have just two candidates and both are sitting TDs - the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey, who is from Trim, and backbencher Johnny Brady, who is from Kells in the northern end of the constituency.
A number of areas where Brady has polled strongly in the past will actually be in the Meath East constituency this time, and it is generally believed that he would have been in a more comfortable position had the county been split north-south.
The republican contender here would rather the constituency had not been split at all. The Sinn Féin candidate, Joe Reilly, who is a Navan-based councillor, polled strongly in the 2002 election.
He got almost 10% of the first-preference vote, but fell short of getting elected. Had the constituency remained a five-seater he would have been strongly tipped for success on this occasion. The down-sizing to a three-seater may have dented his chances but he is still a potential surprise.
The main challenge to the current line up is likely to come from Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane. The party went from having no candidate in 1997 to getting more than 6% of the first preference vote in 2002. Cullinane then ran in the 2004 local and European elections.
He took more than 30,000 votes in the south constituency, two-thirds of them in Waterford. He was, however, the only one of the ten candidates from Waterford. Sinn Féin certainly see him as a strong prospect. He could be seen just over Gerry Adams’ shoulder on the platform at the policing Ard Fheis.
In much of the talk of a Sinn Féin gain, Brian O’Shea’s seat has been named as the most vulnerable. Not surprisingly, Labour people see it differently and argue that the second Fianna Fail seat is more likely to fall prey to any surge in David Cullinane’s vote. But the most commonly expressed view now is that the Sinn Féin man will pull it off.
Wexford, a massive five-seater, will be a battleground, a dogfight, and a barometer for the country. Polls suggest sitting TDs John Browne of Fianna Fail and Paul Kehoe of Fine Gael look safe, even though they would not admit that themselves. And there is really all to play for with last three seats.
FF has two quotas, so they should get another elected. FG believes their spokesperson on health, Liam Twomey, will get back for them, but Sinn Féin has targeted this seat as a real possibility, and John Dwyer will be pushing all the way.
Dwyer got more than 8% of the vote here in 2002, a figure he matched in the East constituency at the subsequent European Elections.
Wexford is definitely a target constituency for Sinn Féin, but it is thought that he will have a tougher battle than some of his colleagues elsewhere in the country. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that Sean Connick is also from New Ross. The Fianna Fail man took a markedly higher share of the town’s vote in the last local elections.
But a strong push here means Dwyer should be taken seriously. It will be between him and Fine Gael.