Kingdom set for fascinating battle royale
on 22/06/2012 00:00:00
Michael Healy-Rae:Ready to face challenges ahead.
AKEY question in the changed Kerry constituency will be whether Fianna Fáil, currently without Dáil representation in the Kingdom, can regain a seat in the next election.
Kerry was left without a Fianna Fáil TD for the first time since 1926 following the general election last year. It was a catastrophic outcome for a party which in the 1930s had five seats in the county and four of the six seats at one stage during the 1970s.
The two, three-seat Kerry constituencies are now being merged into one, with parts of west Limerick, which had been included in the Kerry North constituency in the last redrawing of constituencies, returning to Limerick.
If all six sitting Kerry TDs contest the next election, one will not be returned, which makes for a fascinating contest for all parties and candidates, especially independents.
All will be faced with huge territory to cover, stretching from the Beara Peninsula to the Shannon Estuary and from Dunquin, at the western tip of the Dingle Peninsula, to where the River Blackwater rises near Ballydesmond, Co Cork.
Kerry's six TDs are: Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan (FG); Brendan Griffin (FG); Arthur Spring (Lab); Martin Ferris (SF); and the independents Tom Fleming and Michael Healy-Rae.
Given that the large urban centres such as Tralee, Killarney, and Listowel and their hinterlands usually swing the results, Mr Fleming and Mr Healy-Rae, who both have rural bases, will come under even greater pressure to hold on.
Allowing for the fact that Fianna Fáil hit an all-time low in the 2011 election, polling just over 13% of first preferences in Kerry South, and 11.5% in Kerry North, the party can be expected to improve next time and should be able to get a quota between two candidates.
Former Fianna Fáil minister and ceann comhairle John O'Donoghue, of Caherciveen, has already said he wants to come back. However, he may have opposition at a convention from Kenmare-based Fianna Fáil senator Mark Daly.
The party will also need to run a candidate in the northern side of the constituency and Ballyheigue-based councillor John Brassil could be a frontrunner.
One of the remarkable outcomes of last year's election was the success of Mr Fleming and Mr Healy-Rae as independents in Kerry South. Both come from strong Fianna Fáil backgrounds. Mr Fleming, who left the party weeks before the election, took a huge number of voters with him.
However, party insiders now confide they will be trying to lure back support lost to Mr Fleming and, to a lesser extent, Mr Healy-Rae. Significantly, the Fianna Fáil seat once held by Mr Fleming on Kerry County Council for the Killarney area has gone back to the party in the person of John Joe Culloty.
Fine Gael did exceptionally well in Kerry last time, with Mr Deenihan scooping almost 41% of the vote in Kerry North and first-timer Brendan Griffin getting nearly 33% in Kerry South.
Despite an expected swing against the Government, Mr Deenihan will be an unbackable odds-on with the bookies if he stands again, while Mr Griffin must also have an excellent chance of getting a second term.
Labour's Arthur Spring, with his vastly experienced Uncle Dick as a guiding light, got 20% of the vote in Kerry North last time, but Labour did poorly in Kerry South where senator Marie Moloney only managed 11% of the vote.
It must be pointed out, however, that in Mr Moloney's case a former Labour councillor, Michael Gleeson, who split from the party many years ago, also polled a 11%. Mr Gleeson, a long-serving councillor for the South Kerry Independent Alliance, continues to command the support of a solid bloc of former Labour voters.
Given Sinn Féin's showing in opinion polls, Martin Ferris, who got over 20% of the vote in Kerry North, should hold on. The party is weak in the old Kerry South constituency, though it has been buoyed by the 15% support garnered there by Martin McGuinness in the presidential election.
Mr Ferris predicted a difficult campaign in the sprawling new constituency.
"Whoever is going to be elected is going to have to work an awful lot harder because there will be so much new ground to cover."
Looking into the crystal ball, Mr Deenihan and Mr Ferris get the nod to be re-elected. Fianna Fáil should also get a seat and a Lazarus-like resurrection by John O'Donoghue, who could then be pushing 60, cannot be ruled out.
Mr Griffin could defy an anti-government swing to hold on for Fine Gael, while a battle royale could ensue for the fifth seat, with Labour facing a gigantic struggle. The formidable reputation of the Labour organisation in Kerry will be fully tested. Mr Fleming and Mr Healy-Rae will be fighting hard to hang on, with a battle between them and Labour for the last seat could be on the cards.
Mr Healy-Rae said: "We're ready to face the political challenges that lie ahead. We're not afraid of them. I've had calls today from people in north Kerry who want to join our organisation."
See Constituency Commission Boundaries map here