#GE16 Tipperary: Fine Gael and Fianna Fail run three candidates chasing one seat each…


Current TDs

North Tipperary

Michael Lowry TD (Independent), Noel Coonan TD (Fine Gael), Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly TD, (Labour)

South Tipperary

Minister of State, Tom Hayes TD (Fine Gael), Mattie McGrath TD (Independent), Seamus Healy TD (Workers and Unemployed Action Group)

Total seats in 2016 General Election: 5

For over 60 years the county of Tipperary was divided into two constituencies, north and south.  The boundary review has re-united these constituencies to create a new five seater.  To accommodate the population parameters set out in the constitution 11,000 people in the north west of the county have been exiled to Offaly.

Main areas:

  • Clonmel – population 17908
  • Nenagh – population 8439
  • Thurles – population 7933
  • Carrick-on-Suir – population 5931
  • Roscrea – population 5403
  • Tipperary – population 5310
  • Cashel – population 4051
  • Cahir – population 3578
  • Ballina – population 2442
  • Templemore – population 2071
  • Newport – population 1806
  • Fethard – population 1541


  • Michael Lowry TD, Independent (Thurles-Templemore area- Holycross)
  • Mattie McGrath TD, Independent (Clonmel-Cahir area- Newcastle)
  • Noel Coonan TD, Fine Gael (Thurles-Templemore area- Templemore)
  • Minister of State, Tom Hayes TD, Fine Gael (Cashel-Tipperary area- Golden)
  • Cllr. Marie Murphy, Fine Gael (Clonmel-Cahir area- Clogheen)
  • Cllr. Jackie Cahill, Fianna Fáil (Thurles-Templemore area- Ballycahill)
  • Cllr. Siobhan Ambrose, Fianna Fáil (Clonmel-Cahir area- Clonmel)
  • Cllr. Michael Smith, Fianna Fáil (Thurles-Templemore area- Roscrea)
  • Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Alan Kelly TD, Labour (Nenagh-Newport area- Portroe)
  • Cllr. Seamus Morris, Sinn Féin (Nenagh-Newport area- Nenagh)
  • Seamus Healy TD, Workers and Unemployed Action Group (Clonmel-Cahir area- Clonmel)
  • Mr. Gearoid Fitzgibbon, Green Party (Nenagh-Newport area- Nenagh)
  • Ms. Caroline Hofman, Independent (Thurles-Templemore area- Roscrea)
  • Mr. Michael Dillon, Independent (Nenagh-Newport area- Nenagh)

This is an intriguing constituency blessed with some big name independents and a strong tradition for the larger parties. The north/south boundary is deeply ingrained into the consciousness of Tipperary people and many candidates will struggle to gain votes outside of their home areas. The seats will be evenly divided north and south.

Only four of the candidates, due to their location or their party affiliation, are likely to gain votes across the north – south Tipperary divide.  As these four candidate are northern based (Morris SF, Cahill FF, Lowry Ind, Kelly Lab) it’s likely that this will give the north an edge when it comes to gaining 3 out 5 seats.

In truth there’s only two candidates that can be fairly sure of being elected (Lowry and Hayes) and there are about 7 more that will secure between a third and half a quota in first preference votes. These seven will then engage in the mother of all dogfights to get into the frame.

So many candidates appear to be closely pegged that the order of their elimination will become all important. When candidates are eliminated votes will go to their party colleagues, candidates who share their general political ideology and crucially to the other candidates located near them. Luck will also play its part in a constituency as tight at this.

The old Tipperary North constituency has been dominated by Michael Lowry who has topped the poll and been elected on the first count in every election since 1997. Lowry is often pilloried in the media for dodgy business associations, tax compliance issues and adverse tribunal findings.  Lazy analysts state that this is an example of rural Ireland supporting one of its own and giving the finger to the “Dublin Meeja”.

In fact Lowry gets his high vote despite his scrapes with officialdom rather than because of it. He runs one of the most thorough and professional constituency operations of any TD. He processes a phenomenal amount of constituency work with the help of his own team of four councillors and a dedicated support staff.  In the North Tipperary constituency Lowry regularly got nearly 30% of the vote.

As his Holycross base is just 5 miles from the South Tipperary border he will have realistic expectation of gaining a solid vote from around the towns of Cashel and Fethard particularly from those involved in the equine industry. Lowry’s appeal will be much less in Clonmel or other towns to the south of the county so talk of him repeating his usual result in Tipp North and securing in excess of 28% on this occasion are fanciful.

Nevertheless he should top the poll on the first count and get just over a quota.  There may not be much left to transfer.

Fine Gael are running 3 candidates – Minister for State, Tom Hayes from west Tipperary, Cllr. Mary Murphy from the very south of the constituency about 15 miles from Clonmel and Noel Coonan TD from Templemore in the north. Hayes will be by far the strongest of these three.

He will benefit from having little competition in west Tipperary, having been a Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and in recent years Fine Gael has been stronger in south Tipperary than north. He will likely come second and following the elimination of his running mate Marie Murphy who is unlikely to impact beyond taking a few thousand vote form her own electoral area he should be fairly close to achieving the quota.

The third Fine Gael candidate Noel Coonan is seen by many as likely to lose his seat. However even on poor days, Fine Gael could be relied on to get about 15% in north Tipperary. If Coonan gets the lion’s share of this he will be in the middle of a large group of candidate who will be separated by a spread of a few hundred votes at the end of the first count. 

Polls indicate that there should be two seats for Government parties in Tipperary. If Labour’s Alan Kelly struggles then it leaves room for Coonan to sneak in.  If not elected then Coonan may be the last candidate from north Tipperary to be eliminated and this will have a big impact on the destination of the final seat.

Sinn Féin have opted for Nenagh postman David Morris. Sinn Féin have never figured in the old 3 seat constituencies, however like in many other places the party had a hugely successful local elections in the county achieving 7500 first preferences and 5 council seats. Sinn Féin do not have any star names in Tipperary and their candidate will struggle for personal name recognition and to stand out from the crowd.

Sinn Féin will not be in the shake up for a final seat this time but if they outpoll the other left wing candidate, Seamus Healy, it will deny the hard left of representation, weaken the WUAG and open up an opportunity for Sinn Féin next time.

Clonmel based Seamus Healy is leader of his own party, the WUAG (Workers and Unemployed People Action Group). This Tipperary south organisation which is strongest in the town of Clonmel has grown quieter in recent years, having a poor local elections despite the opportunities presented by the anti-austerity and water charge protests. Tipperary has a proud history of left wing representatives.

However the danger is that with the votes being split between WUAG , Sinn Féin and even Labour there may not be enough available to get Healy into the frame on the first count. Healy himself has not maintained a high profile in the constituency in recent years.

With the organisation’s strength declining, Healy’s seat is at grave risk. He needs to out-poll a resurgent Sinn Féin candidate and then hope that transfers from Sinn Féin take him ahead of his closest challenger in the Clonmel area, Mattie McGrath, if he is to claim a seat.

Mattie McGrath is a livewire, former Fianna Fáil, independent. He was first elected in 2007 when along with Dr. Martin Manseragh Fianna Fáil surprisingly took 2 seats out of 3 in south Tipperary at the expense of Seamus Healy.  He lost the parliamentary party whip in June 2010 and became more vocal in his attacks on Government policy particularly in relation to matters of rural affairs, health and the elderly. 

He only formally announced his departure from Fianna Fáil and his independent candidature in January 2011 just before the last election. He was the third TD elected in south Tipperary on that occasion, still tainted by association with his former party. In recent years he has made a big effort to expand his vote base from the rural area around Tipperary and into the town of Clonmel. 

He has also followed the example of Michael Lowry by building a team of councillors around him. In the 2014 Local Elections it was notable that McGrath supported candidates outperformed the WUAG candidates and this could a portent for the election ahead. McGrath is an able political operator and skilled at getting media attention, he is also a hard worker on the ground.

His campaign slogan of “Getting the work done” is not an idle boast. 

The lack of a strong Fianna Fáil candidate in south Tipperary and little competitions from middle of the road candidates across the south and south east means that there is an opportunity for McGrath to significantly increase his vote back to 2007 levels without having to break over the border into the northern half of the constituency or to take on the Lowry machine.

Much speculation surrounded the Fianna Fáil strategy in this constituency. They had no outgoing TD and will have to unseat two of the sitting TDs in order to win a seat back.  The safe bet would have been to select one candidate and allow the party vote in the county see them elected fairly comfortably. However in their wisdom, Fianna Fáil have decided on a three candidate strategy. 

In the south Cllr. Siobhan Ambrose from Clonmel has the whole of the south of the constituency to herself. This should be of benefit to her but she appears to lack the resources and general popularity of her competitors. On this occasion she appears the weakest of the Fianna Fáil candidates and is unlikely to get into the mix.

Her transfers will help her two running mates to stay in the race until late in the day and may also benefit Mattie McGrath in his quest to hold off Seamus Healy for the second seat. 

The real battle in Fianna Fáil is between Cllr. Jackie Cahill and Cllr. Michael Smith Jnr.  Cahill is a former ICMSA (Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association) President and is active in GAA and greyhound sporting circles.  Michael Smith Jnr. is a son of the former Minister with the same name. 

An internal party row saw Smith being excluded from the Fianna Fáil group on the council in 2014 and his addition to the party ticket for the general election after losing to Cahill at convention was met with dismay by many local party activists. However he maintains an extremely loyal and active team of supporters around Roscrea.

Cahill is based near the town of Thurles and was elected to Tipperary Council for the first time in 2014. With his agricultural and sporting links he will be able to canvass for support in the agricultural heartlands of the golden vale and mid Tipp. He is a shrewd operator and is running a high profile campaign, sparing no expense to ensure his success. Smith has a very strong base near Roscrea.

He is a hard worker in his own right and will also benefit from his father’s many contacts. But he will suffer from the loss of fertile Fianna Fáil territory around the north west of the county. 

There is little to choose between these two. Both are likely to be in the shake up for the final seat.  National polls and the 2014 Local Election results show that there isn’t enough support for the Fianna Fáil to be in the running for two seats at the moment. Cahill may be the more popular and articulate candidate but he has to fight against Lowry in his back yard.

He may get No 2’s from Mattie McGrath supporters but as McGrath is unlikely to be eliminated that won’t help him. Smith lives just up the road from Fine Gael’s Coonan and might just get a final push in the last count. Smith and Cahill will be neck and neck. This fight may boil down to a small number of votes on whichever count the lesser of them is eliminated.

Even with a poor transfer rate there should be enough votes to guarantee that the stronger of the two is elected. Given his greater popularity within the organisation and high octane campaign to-date we’re calling it for Cahill – just. 

National media reviews contain much speculation on the fate of Labour Minister Alan Kelly. AK47 is running on the slogan “Keeping Tipp at the Top Table”. He is not shy to tell the voters of Tipperary all the goodies that he has delivered to the constituency in the past 5 years. Like elsewhere in the country Labour were decimated in the local elections securing less than 8% of the vote and only one council seat.

Of all the sitting TDs, Kelly is closest to the part of north Tipperary now exiled to Offaly for the General Election.

Kelly is an effective constituency worker and shrewd enough to known that while national media coverage about this conduct as a minister may not reflect well on Labour generally, it will play well in his local area. The people of Tipperary are glad to know that their Minister has a lot of power and isn’t afraid to use it for their benefit. 

He remains this constituency’s only hope for representation at the Cabinet table in the next government. Kelly may see himself as the fresh new saviour of the Labour Party but his actions, arrogant manner and bombastic speaking style are more redolent of an old school Fianna Fáil party chieftain. Those guys usually won!

Kelly is running one of the most high profile campaigns in the constituency and is sparing no expense. This should see him secure close to the 10% needed to get into the frame and enough to stay ahead of Sinn Féin’s local challenge and ahead of Coonan from Fine Gael.

The likely elimination of the Fine Gael candidate in north Tipp should be enough for him to keep his seat. Geography will help, as Nenagh is the second biggest town in the constituency and this area should return a TD.

Watch out for:  Labour’s Alan Kelly using every available opportunity to get into the press no matter what the consequences to the national Labour campaign. The bitterest of Fianna Fáil bloodbaths for the one seat available to the party. A tight fight between the two Clonmel independents with little common ideology.  Lowry topping the poll in Tipperary’s first all-county election which he may see as the crowning achievement of his political career.   

Our prediction:    Lowry (Independent), Hayes (Fine Gael )  Cahill (Fianna Fáil) , McGrath (Independent) and Kelly (Labour)

You can find all Statler and Waldorf’s constituency profiles here.

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