#GE16 Guide to Limerick County: Little time for any “new-fangled” kind of politics…

Limerick County  

Limerick CountyCurrent TDs

Patrick O’Donovan TD (Fine Gael), Niall Collins TD (Fianna Fáil), Dan Neville TD (Fine Gael)

Total seats in 2016 General Election: 3

Main Areas:

  • Newcastle West, population – 6,327
  • Abbeyfeale, population – 2,007
  • Kilmallock, population – 1,635
  • Rathkeale, population – 1,550
  • Askeaton, population – 1,149
  • Adare, population – 1,106

The recent constituency redraw has returned over 13,000 people from around Abbeyfeale in the west of the county who had been exiled to the North Kerry constituency in 2011. About 11,000 people in the east around Cappamore have also been returned to the Limerick City constituency.

There’s a small field declared here. 

Candidates:

  • Patrick O’Donovan TD, Fine Gael (Newcastle West) 
  • Cllr. Tom Neville, Fine Gael (Croagh – Adare)
  • Niall Collins TD, Fianna Fail (Patrickswell – Adare)
  • Senator James Heffernan, Social Democrats, (Kilfinnane – Kilmallock)
  • Cllr. Seamus Browne Sinn Fein (Abbeyfeale)
  • Mr. Mark Keogh, Irish Democratic Party (Pallaskenry – Adare)
  • Mr. Emmett O’Brien, Independent (Pallaskenry – Adare)
  • Cllr. Richard O’Donoghue, Independent (Rathkeale)

This constituency under the guise of West Limerick almost religiously returned two Fianna Fáil TDs (one a Collins) and one Fine Gael TD from 1948 up to 2011. The anomalies were, a brief flirtation with the newly formed Progressive Democrats in 1987 to accompany the two Fianna Fáilers and 10 years later when Fine Gael took advantage of an internal row within Fianna Fáil to claim two seats. 

In 2011, one of the outgoing Fianna Fáil deputies, John Cregan, decided not to run and the sole party candidate Niall Collins topped the poll. Collins is the fourth member of his family to represent the constituency, following his grandfather and two uncles. He has developed his own base around Patrickswell and will benefit from the return of his family’s stronghold of Abbeyfeale to the constituency. 

To date Collins is the only candidate selected by Fianna Fáil and is almost certain to top the poll again. Fianna Fáil are struggling to meet the national requirements of a gender quota. This may have contributed to the decision to only run one candidate here.

Fine Gael easily won two seats here in 2011. Veteran politician Dan Neville announced his retirement last year and his son Tom, a local councillor in the Adare – Rathkeale area, was selected to replace him. The party has high hopes of retaining its two seats in this constituency. However, the internal dynamic between the candidates will be worth watching.

Neville Jnr. performed admirably in the local elections in 2014 and his family name will stand to him.  O’Donovan has the benefits of incumbency and the substantial advantage of being the only candidate from the constituency’s largest town, Newcastle West.

O’Donovan is associated with the more conservative Christian Democrat wing of Fine Gael and while this is not necessary a disadvantage in rural west Limerick he may alienate people in the middle ground with his strident views.

Neville may appeal more to middle of the road voters. In order to ensure two seats Fine Gael will want both candidates to be relatively level and ahead of their rivals in the first count. In a constituency where only one seat is guaranteed there is a danger that this could backfire for the sitting TD, who coming to the end of his first term is yet to consolidate his own personal vote. In our opinion if all else is even the geography will win out.

The risk to Fine Gael’s second seat comes from a number of small party candidates. Senator James Heffernan is the only candidate from the eastern side of the constituency. Originally a member of the Labour party Heffernan performed admirably in the 2009 Local Elections and the 2011 General Election drawing on a strong GAA connection and being the closest candidate to the town of Kilmallock.

He left the Labour party in 2012 having voted against social welfare cuts in that budget. He is now running as a member of the fledging Social Democrats party. It’s hard to see this “new-fangled” kind of politics being too well received in this most traditional of constituencies.

A locally focussed independent may be more to the taste of the electorate here and there are a number of such candidates to choose from. Richard O’Donoghue resigned from Fianna Fáil in late 2015 citing unhappiness at its delay in deciding upon a second candidate. There may not be enough time for him to establish his independent credentials.

Cllr. Emmet O’Brien is also originally from the Fianna Fáil camp. A barrister by profession, he took on the might of the Collins’ machine in a bitter argument over candidate selection in the 2014 Local Elections. Fianna Fáil decided it didn’t want him so he left the party and ran as an independent.

He showed a commendable tenacity and work ethic which, supported by a formidable campaign team, helped him to top the poll in the Adare area. Since then he has maintained a high profile locally and speaks particularly knowledgeably on issues of criminality and rural decline.

Independent, though originally “Fianna Fáil gene pool” candidates have prospered in the neighbouring counties of Kerry and Tipperary. This election may be an opportunity for this phenomena of Irish politics to gain a new foothold in Limerick.

Sinn Féin will not be in the running for a seat in this constituency. The party succeeded in taking one seat in each of the county council areas in in 2014 and will be hoping to build on this base for future elections. 

Watch out for: The internal fight within Fine Gael and bitterness between the Fianna Fáil camp and its former allies who are now following an independent path.

Our prediction:   Collins (Fianna Fáil) O’Donovan (Fine Gael) and O’Brien (Independent)

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  • Robin Keogh

    Yummy Stuff, bang on the nail.