There has always been a Fine Gael seat in West Cork since the foundation of the party, apart from one brief interruption in 1957. Could this Saturday’s election see another shock for the party in the home of General Michael Collins?
COULD it really happen that Fine Gael would not win one of the three seats in Cork South West in this weekend’s general election for the first time since the constituency was formed in 1961?
When it was previously known as Cork West, a Fine Gael seat had always seemed a given since the time the party was founded, the only interruption having been in 1957 when Florence Wycherley of Rosscarbery, and later Skibbereen, managed to unseat the incumbent Fine Gael TD, Sean Collins from Clonakilty, who was a nephew of General Michael Collins.
Wycherley had unsuccessfully contested the 1954 general election, with big farmer backing, under the Clann na Talmhán banner.
However, four years later, running as an independent, and with just 17.7% of the first preference vote, Wycherley proved to be more transfer-friendly and secured the third seat, the other successful candidates having been Schull’s Michael Pat Murphy of the Labour Party, who topped the poll, and Bantry’s Ned Cotter of Fianna Fáil, who got the second seat.
Despite losing his Dáil seat, Florence Wycherley continued in politics as a county councillor until he lost his Council seat in 1967. He was the father of the well-known actor Don Wycherley.
After Fine Gael regained its seat in the new Cork South West constituency in 1961 through barrister Sean Collins at the expense of Wycherley, ever since the party has had at least one of the three seats, and on several occasions two, the last having been in 2011, when ‘young guns’ Jim Daly, Clonakilty, and Noel Harrington, Castletownbere, took over the seats that had been held by Fine Gael’s Jim O’Keeffe, Bandon, and PJ Sheehan, Goleen, for three decades.
However, in the 2016 general election, Noel Harrington lost his seat and Jim Daly just managed to secure the third seat, without reaching the quota, trailing poll-topper Fianna Fáil’s Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, Bandon, and independent Michael Collins, Goleen.
In spite of having been promoted to Minister of State at the Department of Health in the meantime, Jim Daly is bowing out of politics for personal reasons and not contesting the 2020 general election.
The bookies and a number of political pundits have installed sitting TDs Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (FF) and Michael Collins (Ind) along with newcomer, high-profile county mayor Christopher O’Sullivan (FF) from Clonakilty, as favourites to take the three seats in Cork South West, which would leave Fine Gael without a seat there for the first time in just under 60 years. Could this really happen?
The withdrawal of Jim Daly is a big blow to their hopes and in-fighting over who should replace him on the ticket has not helped their cause. Recently-elected county councillor Karen Coakley carries their hopes on the western end of the constituency, while Senator Tim Lombard is on the eastern front, but the grassroots organisation seems to be in some disarray.
In recent years, Fianna Fáil found out again what it is like not to have a TD in Cork South West, having failed to get anyone elected there in the 2011 election, as a result of the backlash against the party after the economic downturn brought about the demise of the Celtic Tiger.
That was explainable, but could there really be such a dramatic backlash against Fine Gael now, given the country’s better economic circumstances, or are voters intent on punishing the government party severely over the ongoing health and housing crises?
While the bookies rarely get it wrong, do expect Fine Gael to be fighting it out with Fianna Fáil for the third seat in Cork South West – unless of course the FG party machine on the ground totally fails to mobilise and marshal the core vote it normally has in the area.
Then, of course, if there is a larger younger vote, others could affect the final mix.