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Now it’s back to the drawing board for Fine Gael in West Cork

February 17th, 2020 8:22 AM

By Con Downing

And they're off: The counting beginning at the Cork South West. (Photo: Martin Walsh)

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ALL the excitement surrounding the surprise packet of the general election in Cork South West, Social Democrats’ Holly Cairns taking the third seat, diverted attention away from the disaster that it was for the Fine Gael party, which failed to pick up a seat in the constituency for the first time in six decades.

We wrote here last week about the possibility of the FG party losing the seat vacated by outgoing TD and Minister of State Jim Daly. Having quit politics, citing family reasons, one now wonders if Daly had a foreboding about what was to befall his party!

He had been chosen at the local selection convention, along with Senator Tim Lombard from Minane Bridge, to contest the election in Cork South West for Fine Gael.

Daly having withdrawn, instead of holding another selection convention locally, the choice of candidate to replace him as Lombard’s running mate, Cllr Karen Coakley from Skibbereen, was made by the executive at national level. But all hell broke loose at grassroots level in West Cork and a petition to have former councillor Noel O’Donovan added to the ticket was rejected. This generated great division and disenchantment, with several party activists refusing to get involved in active campaigning in protest. Partly as a result of this, the Fine Gael share of the first preference vote in Cork South West dropped from 32% in 2016, down to just under 19%.

Nonetheless, Lombard, who was in third place after the first count with 5,865 votes, remained in pole position to take the third seat right up to the eighth and final count, before which he was over 2,000 votes ahead of Cairns. This was the distribution of Paul Hayes’s votes after his elimination.

There was a supreme irony in the fact that the 3,000 votes of a Sinn Féin candidate – the party of which General Michael Collins, so beloved of Fine Gaelers, was a member – transferred to Cairns and were to be Lombard’s undoing. It was a huge blow for Fine Gael in West Cork, and one which will cut deeply. When the seething resentment at local party level subsides, it will be a case of back to the drawing board, as they are likely to face a bigger threat from Sinn Féin the next time out, when maybe a one-candidate strategy would serve FG better.

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