#GE16 Cork SC: Still a hard core engine of the political mainstream…

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 17.40.59Cork South Central

Current TDs

Jerry Buttimer TD (Fine Gael), Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney TD (Fine Gael), Micheál Martin TD (Fianna Fáil), Michael McGrath TD (Fianna Fáil), Ciaran Lynch TD (Labour)

Total seats in 2016 General Election: 4

The population of this constituency has been reduced by just over 17,000 with parts of Bishopstown, Glasheen, the Mardyde and the city centre being moved into the neighbouring North Central constituency. The major impact of this has been the reduction in seats from five to four.

Main Areas:

Carrigaline, Turners Cross, Passage West, Ballyphehane, Togher, Passage West, Douglas, Ballintemple, Crosshaven, Maryborough Hill


  • Jerry Buttimer TD, Fine Gael (Bishopstown)
  • Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney TD, Fine Gael (Carrigaline)
  • Micheál Martin TD, Fianna Fáil (Turners Cross)
  • Michael McGrath TD, Fianna Fáil (Passage West)
  • Ciaran Lynch TD, Labour (Ballyphehane)
  • Cllr. Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Sinn Féin (Togher native represents Carrigaline Ballincollig)
  • Lorna Bogue Green Party (UCC, originally Limerick)
  • Jim O’Connell, People before Profit Alliance
  • Fiona Ryan, Anti Austerity Alliance
  • Cllr. Mick Finn, Independent Alliance (Ballyphehane/Togher)
  • Diarmaid O Cadhla, The People’s Convention, (South East City)
  • Ciaran Kenneally, Renua (Turners Cross)
  • Michael Mohally, The People’s Convention
  • Elizabeth Hourihane, Independent (Passage West)
  • Cllr. Joe Harris, Independent (Douglas)

As we all learned in our school days five into four won’t go. This constituency is home to five high profile sitting TDs and after February 26th at least one of them is guaranteed to lose their seat.  To add to the intrigue, both Sinn Féin and the Independent Alliance have candidates who will make a deep impact on the outcome of this election.

15 candidates will stand in this constituency representing every possible segment of the political spectrum. The main protagonists are going to soak up so much attention that the rest will not have an opportunity to make a telling impact. As in most such constituencies getting into the frame in the first count is vital and the vote divide and campaign strategies adopted by the various parties will play a huge role here. 

The Labour Party is putting all its efforts behind Ciaran Lynch who has represented the constituency since 2007. Deputy Lynch was the second candidate elected in 2011. Since then the party’s fortunes in the city have declined drastically, losing all 7 of its seats on Cork City Council in the 2014 Local Elections as well as its seat in the Carrigaline electoral area.

The available evidence is that Labour is unlikely to recover to its 2011 levels and this seat is all but lost. The elimination of Deputy Lynch should help the cause of Jerry Buttimer to retain his seat.

Current polls and the most recent local elections indicate that both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will fall a short of two quotas each but both should poll comfortably over 30%. Party strategists will aim to get both of their candidates relatively level and as close to the quota as possible.

They will hope that this will get both candidates into the frame and sufficiently ahead of competitors to ensure that after eliminations and transfers of votes no one gets passed out. Get this wrong and one of the candidates loses their seat. Understandably in a tight situation the candidates themselves sometimes turn on each other to ensure their own survival at the expense of their running mate.

There are a number of different strategies that can be adopted to achieve two seats in a tight situation. Fine Gael appear to be taking the gentlemanly approach of dividing the constituency between their candidates and reinforcing the message that they have a united team by asking the public to continue preferences for the other candidate. If candidates start getting nervous this comradeship can quickly deteriorate. 

Coveney will be the strongest of the pair. His strength lies in the suburban part of the constituency. He has the benefit of his ministerial title, strong family links to Cork and of being spoken about as a future Taoiseach.

Coveney will be comfortably elected and will have to take on some responsibility of ensuring this running-mate’s election. It will be a test of Coveney’s leadership credentials to allow Jerry Buttimer room to build his own first preference vote share. Buttimer will be badly hampered by the removal of much of his Bishopstown home base from the constituency.

However, his brother John topped the poll in the south west ward in the local elections and together they have developed a formidable reputation as a constituency operators in the inner city. Fine Gael have a well-balanced team and they will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to achieve success.

The second means of maximising a party’s vote to achieve two seats is to pit the candidates against each other in all-out war. This can have the effect of energising party activists, polarizing opinion and hoovering up all available support. In this strategy it’s hoped that candidates will not be required to transfer to each other and will battle to a relative stalemate.

This appears to be the Fianna Fáil way in Cork South Central. There is little love lost between Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath and Micheál Martin. McGrath is often mentioned as amongst those most likely to succeed Martin. This animosity came to the fore, when a row over local election candidate selection was splashed over the local papers.

Eventually the party had a relatively successful locals seeing almost all their candidates elected in the city. McGrath’s brother Seamus topped the poll in the Carrigaline-Ballincollig ward of Cork County Council. He achieved an incredible 4,700 first preference votes and was the highest vote getter nationally in the local elections.

As newly elected Fianna Fáil Leader in 2011 Micheál Martin was somewhat insulated from the unpopularity of that outgoing Government. Martin has topped the poll on numerous occasions and has a committed personal campaign team who ensure the safe running of the constituency whilst he is around the country leading the national FF campaign.

Martin should be secure but there is a sense that McGrath is the man for the future and the mantle of local kingpin may be passed in this election.

Independent councillor Mick Finn was another local election poll topper, this time in the south central ward.  He has a strong support base around Togher and Ballyphenane.  He previously worked as an advisor to now retired Fianna Fáil TD John Dennehy.

He will perform strongly in the constituency but amongst so many independent and small party candidates it will be hard to get into the final shake up. In 2011, his votes divided almost equally between all the remaining candidates. On this occasion if the Sinn Féin candidate who lives near him can secure a good transfer rate then they will be right in the hunt for the last seat. 

Sinn Féin candidate Chris O’Leary was the last man standing in 2011. Sinn Féin had a very strong local election in Cork City showing that their appeal, particularly in urban areas, is growing right across the country. O’Leary held his council seat with ease and looked set to be the party’s flagbearer again in the General Election. However newcomer 27 year old councillor Cllr.

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has appeared on the scene making a huge impact in the Carrigaline-Ballincollig electoral area. This is even more impressive when it is considered that Ó Laoghaire’s home base of Togher, where he is an active participant in community and sporting life, was not included in his electoral area.

Sinn Féin resisted the urge to run both candidates to maximise their vote and in a selection convention that had to be replayed after a draw the first time around Cllr. Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire defeated Chris O’Leary by the two votes.  Naturally supports of the defeated O’Leary were very disappointed at the result but there appears no indication that internal rivalry has impacted the Sinn Féin machine in this election.

This final seat will go down to the wire.  Given the profile and work ethic of the sitting TDs it will be difficult for a newcomer to break into the frame. However Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire is young, energetic and a solid media performer. Sinn Féin are on the march in Cork, it’s almost inevitable that he will eventually sit in Dáil Eireann but he may have to wait for another day.

As there is no discernible weakness amongst the four sitting TDs and they are all likely to poll strongly and reasonably closely in terms of first preference vote. We are reluctantly sticking with the incumbents to prove their mettle in this election. 

Watch out for:  Two fascinating internal party battles for supremacy. If any of the sitting TDs pulls ahead in the poll it will spell danger for their running mate.  Cllr. Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire will rally a strong vote in line with Sinn Féin nationally. If he can energise younger people to vote then this one will probably boil town to a few hundred votes on the last count. 

Our prediction:

Simon Coveney (Fine Gael), Michael McGrath (Fianna Fáil), Micheál Martin (Fianna Fáil), Jerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)

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