By Siobhán Cronin
and Emma Connolly
SOCIAL Democrats councillor Holly Cairns has been selected to run as the party’s Dáil candidate in the Cork South West constituency.
The first-time candidate in last May’s local elections was elected after two very tense recounts in County Hall, beating Beara’s Finbarr Harrington (Ind) by a single vote.
She had not been widely expected to take a seat, but has since hit the ground running in County Hall and in her constituency, and has been very vocal on environmental issues.
She has also been recently made the Social Democrats spokesperson on agriculture.
Holly, who is in a relationship with county mayor Christopher O’Sullivan (FF) – as revealed by the mayor himself at a public event in Courtmacsherry during the summer – has said the local election results illustrated an appetite for change.
‘We can’t continue to vote for the same thing and expect a different result,’ said the farmer, who is based outside Skibbereen, but in the Bantry electoral area.
‘For as long as I can remember, it’s been a race between two parties with almost identical policies and I think the electorate is ready for a change,’ she told The Southern Star this week, where she exclusively announced her intention to run in the upcoming election in Cork South West.
‘We need policies for the next generation and not just for the next election, for greater transparency, for an honest and compassionate approach. I’m tired of hearing politicians say what they think we want to hear, rather than telling us what we need to hear.’
Holly lived and worked abroad for many years in Greece, Spain, the UK, USA and Malta, before moving back home to work in the family farm and business, Brown Envelope Seeds.
Before Cllr Cairns’ announcement this week, the three-seat Cork South West constituency was already shaping up to be a lively race next time around.
Fine Gael TD Jim Daly announced in recent weeks that he was leaving politics at the next election. The party has chosen Sen Tim Lombard to contest the seat, but is likely to announce a second candidate prior to the election. Sitting TDs Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (FF) and Michael Collins (Ind) have not yet made any election announcements.
Although it will be an uphill battle for the newcomer, who is relatively unknown in some areas of the constituency, the increasingly important issue of climate change may work in the young farmer’s favour.
Holly, who turns 30 in a few days’ time, was a strong supporter of the successful SOS campaign to oppose the proposed plastics factory for Skibbereen, and is also currently backing a local campaign in opposition to a major mussel farm planned for Kenmare Bay.
She is also against proposals to harvest kelp seaweed on a large scale in Bantry Bay.
Local pundits believe that if she can mobilise the youth vote, her support of a liberal agenda may see her making inroads against the current incumbents. Not having a woman declare for Fine Gael as yet also means she may have a gender advantage.
Speculation is continuing over a likely date for an election, given the Taoiseach’s ruling-out of a pre-Christmas polling day this week, with March and May 2020 being two strong possibilities.
Holly was this week endorsed by the Social Democrat’s co-leader Catherine Murphy, who said she was an ‘extremely hard worker. We couldn’t be prouder of her work on the Council.’
Of course, there will be the criticism that political ‘young guns’ don’t always stay for the long haul. In the 2011 election, a troupe of new faces swept into the consitutency – Michael McCarthy (Lab), Jim Daly (FG) and Noel Harrington (FG) – but none of them will be there this time around.