Holly flying the flag solo for women in Co Cork

February 19th, 2020 6:02 PM

By Jackie Keogh

An overview of the Cork South West count centre in Clonakilty on Sunday, where counting continued until 4am. (Photo: Martin Walsh)

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SOCIAL Democrat Holly Cairns has done the impossible – twice.

Last year, the 30-year-old West Cork woman went from being one vote behind to one vote ahead to take a seat for her party on the West Cork Municipal District and, in the early hours of Monday morning, she became the only female TD elected in all of Cork city and county.

Holly’s win was historic for other reasons too: by ousting Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard for the third and final seat, she ended that party’s tradition of always returning a TD in Cork South West since the foundation of the party, with one brief exception in 1957.

Her election is considered significant because it shows that West Cork – which is always known for its high voter turnout and predictability – is not immune to national trends and has moved away from party politics. The Social Democrat’s election debunked another myth too – the received wisdom was that Cork South West always returns two TDs in the highly-populated eastern side of the constituency and one in the sparsely-populated West.

Holly Cairns, who is from Church Cross near Skibbereen, isn’t too far removed from the poll-topper, Michael Collins (Ind), a sitting TD who was elected on the first count and is returning to the 33rd Dáil.

In 2016, Michael Collins made his own bit of history by being the first independent TD since 1957 to take a seat in CSW.

Senator Tim Lombard had hoped that he would be able to hold the third seat won by Jim Daly TD in 2016, but nobody –certainly not Fine Gael – could have predicted the 3,023 votes Holly Cairns picked up from Sinn Féin’s eliminated Cllr Paul Hayes in the eighth and final count.

There is, however, one West Cork particular that hasn’t changed – the truism that Clonakilty has always had a TD, be it Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

This time, county mayor Christopher O’Sullivan (FF) took the second of the three seats, after securing 989 transfers from the Clonakilty-based Cllr Paul Hayes (SF), a vote that put him over the quota.

His victory came at the expense of his running mate, the sitting TD, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony whose first preference vote dropped from her poll-topping performance of 8,482 in 2016 to 4,077 on February 8th last.

There were 12 candidates vying for the three seats.

Five of them were women – a statistic that means Cork South West can claim to be joint 8th in terms of the number of female candidates nationally, and joint highest in Munster with Clare and Limerick city.

Another quirk of this election was the 5,000 increase in the turnout, which brought the figure for the electorate up to 69,127.

Holly Cairns has, by and large, been credited with some of this increase because lots of young people saw how crucial each vote was in her 2019 campaign.

‘The “one vote” story made a difference,’ she told The Southern Star.

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