S&W’s #GE16 Guide to Wexford: Beware the independent who doesn’t fix potholes

Wexford Local Authority seats

Wexford County Council Seats

Current TDs: John Browne (Fianna Fáil), Brendan Howlin (Labour), Paul Kehoe (Fine Gael), Liam Twomey (Fine Gael), Mick Wallace (Independent)

Total seats in 2016 General Election: 5

Main towns:

  • Wexford Town, population 20,721
  • Enniscorthy, population 10,838
  • Gorey, population 9,114
  • New Ross, population 8,158

Candidates:

To date 14 candidates have declared today. Many of these have little chance of actually taking a seat. We’re not interested in the political extras so for this analysis we will look at the main candidates of interest.

  • Mick Wallace TD (Independent) – Dublin based but originally from the New Ross area
  • Minister for State and Government Chief Whip, Paul Kehoe TD (Fine Gael) – Enniscorthy area
  • Senator Michael D’Arcy (Fine Gael) – Gorey area
  • Cllr. Malcolm Byrne (Fianna Fáil) – Gorey area
  • Cllr. James Browne (Fianna Fáil) – Enniscorthy area
  • Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin TD (Labour) – Wexford Town area
  • Cllr. Johnny Mythen (Sinn Féin) – Enniscorthy area
  • Cllr. Ger Carthy (Independent) – Wexford Town area.

For many years Wexford has been considered one of the country’s most stable constituencies. It reliably returned 2 Fine Gael, 2 Fianna Fáil and 1 Labour TD.  Usually 2 TDs came from the northern side where Enniscorthy and Gorey are the main towns and 2 from the south – Wexford and New Ross. The final seat then alternated between the north and south of the county, depending on local issues and personalities.

Enniscorthy has often benefited from a mid county position and a history of strong political personalities to return 2 TDs, slightly more than the local population would justify on paper. Changes in personnel were often the result of internal party competition with candidates from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil unseating their erstwhile running mates.

This cosy set up was blown apart in 2011 by Mick Wallace, the larger than life socialist developer originally from South Wexford, who announced his candidacy less than four weeks from the election day live on TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne programme.   His colourful persona was lapped up by a receptive media and he boasted of his intention not to engage in parish pump local politics and to continue to live in Dublin.

Snubbing the advice that all politics is local he stormed to the top of the poll and ousted the nearest sitting TD to his original geographical base – outgoing Minister for State, Sean Connick TD of Fianna Fáil.

During his term in office Wallace has shunned local politics but has rarely been far from the headlines, often courting controversy as an outspoken independent TD focussing on justice issues, perceived Garda corruption, neutrality and using his own bankruptcy experiences. All this has led to him developing a bit of a cult following.

He has also been more interested in national media coverage than handling local issues. In the past that was a well worn path to electoral disaster so it will be interesting to see how the people of Wexford feel about having a self-proclaimed ‘national politician’.  As a developer, Mick Wallace is a TD who knows more than enough about welding a shovel – but he’s the only one who doesn’t fix potholes.

In the local elections in 2014 none of the 4 candidates he endorsed came close to taking a seat, so there are clear limits to his local political appeal. The political career of Mick Wallace will make an interesting subject for those who espouse the need for national politicians.  While it’s extremely unlikely that Wallace will enjoy the same barnstorming performance he did last time, he’s still likely to keep his seat.

There is a plethora of independent candidates that have declared in Wexford but one to keep an eye on is Cllr. Ger Carthy from the Wexford Town area. Carthy is a community activist with a strong family history in local politics, building upon a solid local election vote to secure a positive local profile.

His campaign will take votes from Minister Brendan Howlin’s strong Wexford base and Carthy will also benefit from the retirement of Liam Twomey. There may not be scope for two independents in this constituency in the next election but he is definitely one to watch for the future. With Howlin in the twilight of his political career that will open up further opportunity for local votes in the future.

Separately Wallace has often declared that his political career will be short lived. If he lives up to that promise then Carthy is well placed to capitalise. That day could come even sooner should Labour endure a cataclysmic election day next time round.

Brendan Howlin has been a stalwart for Wexford Town since his first election to the Dáil in 1987. He’s enjoyed a very strong reputation locally and is also acknowledged as one of the Labour Party’s best performers in the Dáil.  He will benefit from the retirement of Fine Gael’s Dr. Liam Twomey and from Fine Gael’s lack of strength in depth locally.

However the decline on of Labour’s national popularity, along with a strong local challenger in Carthy may see Howlin suffering a long day at the election count. However his reputation and track record should be just enough to enable him to survive as one of Labours few TDs outside of Dublin.

Fine Gael have consistently returned 2 TDs here and were very disappointed not to have secured 3 seats last time out, mainly due to the tsunami of Mick Wallace’s late entry to the field. Liam Twomey has announced his decision to retire and the party had a disappointing local election in Wexford, falling behind Fianna Fáil and failing to elect a single councillor in the 10 seat Wexford area.

They will expect that Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe will retain his seat in the Enniscorthy area but have pinned their hopes on former TD Michael D’arcy to regain the seat he lost to his running mate Twomey in 2011. Their third candidate Julie Hogan was added with more than an eye to the party’s gender quota obligations.

She’s unlikely to challenge for a seat on this occasion and may hope to use the opportunity as a launch pad for the next local elections and beyond. Despite the Fine Gael’s recent resurgence in the polls this could be one constituency where they might be fighting to hold their existing seats.

Geography will come into play here and if D’arcy can’t get ahead of a local challenge from Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne he may end up losing a fight for the last seat.

Fianna Fáil’s selection strategy caused some controversy when a decision was taken to give Gorey councillor Malcolm Byrne a free pass at convention by dividing the constituency on an east/ west axis.  As a result New Ross’s Cllr. Michael Sheahan lost out to Cllr. James Brown from Enniscorthy, son of long serving local TD John Browne.

Insult was added to injury when Fianna Fáil added newcomer Aoife Byrne to the ticket, a decision that aids the party’s gender quota requirements.  A daughter of former TD Hugh Byrne she is from near Sheahan’s base in New Ross but lacks any personal political experience so is unlikely to figure. Despite a relatively strong local elections in Wexford, Fianna Fáil support has not grown enough to realistically challenge for a second seat.

Cllr. Browne should benefit from the traditional Fianna Fáil support in the county, given his family background. Cllr. Byrne on the other hand represents a new type of Fianna Fáil politician, being one of the few openly gay political representatives in the party. There is a seat to be won and these two appear evenly matched.

Sinn Féin had a very good local elections in Wexford, winning a seat in each of the four electoral areas and securing over 12% of the vote. With a General Election quota for this constituency being 16% Enniscorthy’s. Cllr. Johnny Mythen will be fighting strongly for a seat. If national opinion polls bear out at a local level he will slip comfortably into the 4th seat.

Watch out for:

The internal battle in Fianna Fáil. Geography will come into play for the final seat. Should Browne from Enniscorthy get the upper hand over Gorey’s Byrne it will help Fine Gael’s D’arcy (Gorey) in his battle against Sinn Féin’s Mythen (Enniscorthy) for that last seat.

Our prediction:

Wallace (Independent), Kehoe (Fine Gael), M. Byrne (Fianna Fáil), Mythen (Sinn Féin) and Howlin (Labour).

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  • steve white

    Mick Wallace (re)registered the Independents4change party http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/about/publications/registerofpoliticalparties/ and socialist?

  • Robin Keogh

    Spot on analysis there. SF will be happy to take a seat here having little
    or no representation for decades, howver for comfort sake the party wiuld prefer to take about 14% first preference to avoid too much of a squeaky bum. Wxford is a good example of how SF’s fortunes have improved nationwide.

    Fianna fails selection mess is also something that has been replicated all over the state. Head office retain the power with very little input from party members and activists on the ground.

    I agree with you on Labours Howlin but i think while he will be one of the few over the line; and just about.

  • mickfealty

    For once, I agree with most of that Robin. Just thought I’d say so, in case you were thinking I was just disagreeing with you for the hell of it.

    Fianna Fail’s residual strength is in the parish, but it was also their weakness in 2011 and will likely flatten their performance this time too.