#GE16 Sligo Leitrim: Rendered unpredictable by the John Perry legal action…

SligoSligo-Leitrim

Current TDs (Sligo-North Leitrim)

John Perry TD (Fine Gael), Michael Colreavy TD (Sinn Féin), Tony McLoughlin TD (Fine Gael)

Total seats in 2016 General Election: 4

2016 sees the return of the Sligo-Leitrim constituency after a nine year absence. This cobbled together constituency could more accurately be described as Sligo-Leitrim-South Donegal & West Cavan. It will comprise all of county Sligo, all of county Leitrim, a population of about 9,000 from southern county Donegal around Bundoran and Ballyshannon and 13,000 people from western county Cavan area.

Main areas:

  • Sligo Town – population 19,452
  • Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim – population 3,980
  • Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal – population 2,503
  • Bundoran, Co.Donegal – population 2,140
  • Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo – population 1,747
  • Strandhill, Co. Sligo – population 1,596
  • Ballymote, Co. Sligo – population 1,539
  • Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim – population 1,336
  • Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan – population 1,061
  • Kinlough, Co. Leitrim – population 1,018
  • Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim – population 889

Candidates:

  • Cllr. Gerry Reynolds, Fine Gael (Ballinamore, Leitrim)
  • John Perry TD, Fine Gael (Ballymote, Sligo)
  • Tony McLoughlin TD, Fine Gael (Sligo)
  • Cllr. Chris MacManus, Sinn Féin (Sligo)
  • Cllr. Martin Kenny, Sinn Féin (Ballinamore, Leitrim)
  • Leslie O’Hora, Green Party (Carrick-On-Shannon, Leitrim)
  • Cllr. Des Guckian, Independent (Carrick-On-Shannon, Leitrim)
  • Cllr. Paddy O’Rurke, Fianna Fáil (Carrigallen, Leitrim)
  • Cllr. Eamon Scanlon, Fianna Fáil (Ballymote, Sligo)
  • Senator Marc MacSharry, Fianna Fáil (Sligo)
  • Senator Susan O’Keeffe, Labour (Coolaney, Sligo)
  • Finbarr Filan, Renua (Dromohair, Sligo)
  • Nigel Gallagher, People Before Profit Alliance (Maugherow, Sligo)
  • Cllr. Marie Casserly, Independent Alliance (Grange, Sligo)
  • Cllr. Declan Bree, Independent (Sligo)
  • Bernard Sweeney, Independent (Sligo)
  • Gary Smylie, Independent, (Sligo)

This constituency poses an intriguing puzzle from both a geographical and personality perspective. County Sligo contains just over 54% of the population of the constituency and should provide at least two TDs.  There are no candidates from either Donegal (7% of population) or Cavan (11%) running and there is no conclusive evidence to show that people in Donegal have greater affinity with Leitrim than Sligo. 

Though, perhaps west Cavan might feel that the Leitrim candidates are at least a little closer. There should be at least one TD elected in Leitrim but the destination of the fourth seat is not certain.

Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have decided to run 3 candidates. Each party selecting a candidate in Sligo Town, a candidate in rural south Sligo and a Leitrim candidate.  Sinn Féin have two candidates one in Sligo and one in Leitrim.  The individual match ups between the candidates within each party and against their closest neighbour will be the key factors that decide this election.

The Fine Gael ticket of John Perry TD, Tony McLoughlin TD and Gerry Reynolds has undoubtedly attracted much media attention. As is well documented, Fine Gael’s strategists attempted to employ a two candidate strategy, one candidate in each county. This resulted in 2011 poll topper and former Minister of State John Perry failing at the Fine Gael selection convention.

He subsequently took a court case to ensure his addition to the ticket.  There is much rancour within the Fine Gael camp following Perry’s imposition.  The party also experienced a disastrous local election in Sligo in 2014 returning only 3 councillors. By running three candidates in the constituency there is grave danger that the party vote could be badly split.

At first glance John Perry would appear the weaker candidate coming from rural south Sligo and having some baggage as a result of rash promises he was unable to deliver on in the past 4 years. However the fight with the party strategists in Dublin will have given his profile a boost and getting the better of “Dublin” rarely does any harm to an aspiring TD.

It’s clear that Perry will not be participating in any vote dividing strategy with his running mates.

Tony McLoughlin is well liked and respected within his party. He was the choice of Fine Gael party members at a selection convention. This support will stand to him as he seeks to secure re-election for the first time.

In Leitrim Gerry Reynold has previously served as a TD in the constituency, as a Senator and also on the county council. He decided not to contest the council elections in 2014. He should benefit from the addition of west Cavan to be ahead of at least one of his two running mates and into contention for a seat.

Fianna Fáil have also chosen to adopt a 3 candidate strategy.  Their Leitrim candidate Paddy O’Rourke is a long serving county councillor. While there is a strong Fianna Fáil vote in the eastern half of this constituency O’Rourke appears to have joined the race too late in the day to make an impression. However he is based close to west Cavan which traditionally has strongly supported Fianna Fáil.

In 2011 then outgoing TD Eamon Scanlon outpolled his running mate Senator Marc MacSharry by 500 votes and eventually missed out on the final seat to Sinn Fein’s Michael Colreavy by just 650 votes. The addition of south Donegal will benefit MacSharry who will be able to benefit from the strong Fianna Fáil support in an area and his family’s strong association with that part of the country.

The larger constituency is likely to be of benefit to MacSharry who enjoys strong name recognition, especially amongst diehard Fianna Fáil supporters who remember the achievements of his father Ray, as EU Commissioner and as Minister for Finance. As the only Fianna Fáil Oireachtas member in the consistency for the past 5 year he has had a good opportunity to build up his own support base.

Eamon Scanlon is held in high regard among Fianna Fáil activists in his native Sligo. He reclaimed a county council seat in 2014 but with a larger constituency and local competition from John Perry he may struggle to get ahead of MacSharry. Two seats for Fianna Fáil may be theoretically possible but it is hardly likely.

Sinn Féin are also running a candidate in each of the main counties. There should be enough Sinn Fein support to guarantee one seat and it would be sensible for the party to focus its energies on the stronger candidate and not endanger the seat by having both candidate fall outside the frame with relatively equal vote-shares. 

Sinn Féin seem to be putting more party support behind Leitrim councillor Martin Kenny who has performed well in the recent bye-election in Roscommon-South Leitrim. Kenny is likely to be the first Leitrim based representative elected.

As in many constituencies the final seat is hard to predict. Neither of the mainstream parties can be entirely ruled out for a second seat. However a strong independent candidate would also be well placed to attract transfers following the elimination of the weaker candidates.

In such a diverse constituency it will be difficult for an independent candidate to gain support outside their home area without a high profile. Hence, most of the independent candidates running have little chance of making an impression. However Sligo has one independent who will pose a serious challenge – Councillor Marie Casserly. 

Casserly’s candidature has received a major boost with an endorsement and support from TD and current MEP Marian Harkin. Harkin still commands a lot of respect in the North West. Cllr. Casserly is careful not to alienate votes and rarely takes a stance on contentious issues. She should appeal to those in the middle ground who have lost faith in the abilities of the traditional party candidates. 

With a solid Sligo base she will challenge strongly for a seat in this constituency.

Labour Senator Susan O’Keefe and Renua Ireland’s Finbarr Filan (brother of Westlife’s Shane) will be distant also-rans. Declan Bree has a long record of achievement as an independent left wing councillor.  Despite the success of anti-austerity and anti-water charge protests, it is unlikely that he will be able to secure enough support to get into the final shake up.

Watch out for:  A strong geographical trend in the transfers. Recrimination in Fine Gael if the three candidate strategy backfires.    

Our Prediction:     Martin Kenny (Sinn Féin), Marc MacSharry (Fianna Fáil), Gerry Reynolds (Fine Gael) and Marie Casserly (Independent)

Statler and Waldorf are two former political party muppets who have 30 years’ experience in Irish politics.  They now specialise in providing analysis from the sidelines.

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