11 Aug 2022

Changed boundaries and new personnel as the battle is on for four seats in Sligo-Leitrim

Changed boundaries and new personnel as the battle is on for four seats in Sligo-Leitrim

Different geographical areas this time round

The general elections of 2016 and 2020 are markedly different in terms of the candidates involved, the strategies being adopted and, most particularly, in the composition of the constituency.
The 2016 election was contested along different geographical lines with West Cavan and South West Donegal joining the entire Counties of Sligo and Leitrim.
This time round, West Cavan has returned to the Cavan-Monaghan constituency and Counties Sligo and Leitrim are still joined by South West Donegal (including the towns of Bundoran and Ballyshannon) with the addition this time of a portion of North Co Roscommon (including population points such as the town of Boyle, the villages of Ballyfarnon and Keadue and the wider Cortober area of Carrick-on-Shannon).
The change in the structure of the constituency and the different personnel running for election makes it more difficult to hazard a guess at what might happen this time round.
Take for instance the Leitrim-based TD, Martin Kenny of Sinn Féin.
His circumstances and that of his party have changed utterly since the last election. On that occasion they ran a two candidate strategy.
Cllr Chris MacManus polled very strongly with about 3,400 first preference votes in Sligo and almost 1,000 in Donegal, while Deputy Kenny, according to the tallies, claimed 4,200 first preferences in Leitrim and over 1,100 in West Cavan.
There is a core Sinn Fein vote in this constituency with over 11,100 votes for the party last time round. However, approximately 1,200 of those were in West Cavan but there are party votes to be had in Roscommon so it should even itself out to some degree.

Sinn Féin votes among two candidates always transfer strongly and with Cllr MacManus now campaigning for Deputy Kenny in Sligo, it should give the Leitrim TD a strong footing to get re-elected.
There's no doubt, however, that while Deputy Kenny will rely heavily on Leitrim support, he will feel the heat in Ballinamore town and surrounds where there is a divisive split in the party.
He secured approximately 500 votes in the Ballinamore and Aughawillan areas last time and it will be interesting to see how he fares when those boxes are opened on this occasion.
Another issue that Sinn Féin will have to consider and could have an impact on their overall vote is the gap that Cllr MacManus will leave in Sligo Town in particular.
There is the opportunity for current Sligo Mayor, Cllr Gino O'Boyle (People Before Profit) and the long-serving councillor and former TD, Declan Bree (Independent), to benefit from the Sinn Féin vacuum in the town.
Martin Kenny will likely need transfers from both of those candidates if he is to make it over the line. Last time out, Cllr Bree transferred over 2,000 votes to Sinn Féin, 1,400 to MacManus and 600 to Kenny.
Cllr O'Boyle is an unknown quantity in terms of national elections but he is a big vote getter in Sligo Town and his transfers could be crucial for the hopes of more than one candidate before the four seats are filled.
The situation regarding the candidates for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are less clear and that has to do with a number of factors which includes the candidates themselves, their political experience, and the geography of the constituency.
Fine Gael in Leitrim got off to a very messy start with the two selected candidates, Gerry Reynolds and Cllr Sinead Maguire stepping down for personal reasons.

It became a bit of a circus before the party finally settled on two candidates, Cllr Thomas Walsh in Sligo and Senator Frank Feighan who, while living now in Sligo, immediately set his focus on Co Leitrim and of course on his native North Co Roscommon.
The Fine Gael Senator is a former TD for the now defunct Roscommon-South Leitrim constituency and would expect strong support from the party faithful in Co Leitrim.
Former Leitrim TD, Senator and Councillor, Gerry Reynolds narrowly missed out on the last occasion with 1,600 votes coming from West Cavan.
Those votes are not there anymore and you would expect Frank Feighan to pick up the party vote in both Leitrim and in the new part of the constituency, his heartland of Boyle and surrounds.
How Cllr Walsh will fare is less clear. He is a first time candidate but is up against some heavy hitters in Co Sligo. The retirement of Tony McLoughlin as a TD will ensure Cllr Walsh picks up that core party vote in Sligo.
The decision of former TD and Minister of State, John Perry to run again, this time on an Independent ticket, will put pressure on the Fine Gael vote, particularly in South Sligo and around his own base in Ballymote.
He polled 4,400 first preferences the last time while running under the Fine Gael banner and will be hoping to significantly improve on that this time round.
First preferences will have a big bearing, but more so will transfers, and votes in Sligo will cross party lines and stay within a geographic area as they have done in the past.

This will also affect another South Sligo candidate and another Ballymote man, Eamon Scanlon. The Fianna Fáil TD picked up a healthy 1,000 transfers from Perry on the last occasion and will feel it is imperative he stays ahead of his rival to get the most benefit from transfers.
Fianna Fáil's other political heavyweight comes in the form of Sligo Town's Marc MacSharry who topped the poll on the last occasion with 8,856 first preferences.
The opinion polls at this stage are showing a bounce for Fianna Fáil and the member of the Dáil's powerful Public Accounts Committee would be expected to retain his seat.
That leaves Fianna Fáil in Co Leitrim who have selected first time candidate Shane Ellis from Fenagh to contest the election.

Son of former Leitrim TD, John Ellis, this is his first foray into politics at any level. What he has going for him is that he is the only party candidate in Co Leitrim and one of only a handful of candidates from the county.
That leaves a lot of territory to cover but also a lot of votes to be hoovered up. How he or any first time candidate fares is always difficult to tell.
The party ran Cllr Paddy O'Rourke on the last occasion but the inclusion of West Cavan was a big factor in Cllr O'Rourke decision to go forward. He was incredibly successful in that regard with over 1,800 votes from that area. That was coupled with 3,200 votes from Leitrim.
In the interim, Fianna Fáil has probably benefitted from a bit of a recovery in the polls, and the party will be hoping that it, through Shane Ellis, will be the big beneficiary from that.
The big imponderable in relation to the other candidates running is that of former TD and MEP Marian Harkin who has thrown her hat into the ring.
Having retired from the European Parliament, the former schoolteacher and community activist, is having another go at national politics and is running on a ticket of balanced regional development, among other things.
Her introduction into the race is seen either as a breath of fresh air by someone who is needed to break the stranglehold of the political parties, or a candidate who has already held office and has nothing left to prove.
It is likely Marian Harkin will be in the running for one of the four seats on offer but where she will get the votes and who she will affect remains to be seen.
Certainly her old stomping grounds of Sligo and North Leitrim in particular will be her target.
Others who are running include Blaithín Gallagher for the Green Party. The Mohill native now resident in Creevelea will benefit from what is regarded as a 'green wave' across the country.
She is joined by first time candidate Nessa Cosgrove for the Labour Party who will be trying to build on the 1,800 votes picked up by Susan O'Keeffe on the last occasion.
Smaller parties such as Renua will run Drumshanbo man and former local election candidate Oisín O'Dwyer, the National Party are running Paul McWeeney from near Carrick-on- Shannon and Aontú are putting forward Derry woman Anne McCloskey.
In the Independent ranks, Dromahair woman Bernie O'Hara is running again on a policy of common sense politics and an end to the neglect of rural Ireland. She polled over 1,200 first preferences the last time and will be hoping to improve on that.
She will be joined on the ballot by Drumshanbo teacher and former local election candidate Sean Wynne, James Conway from Ballinacarrow, Co Sligo and Mary O'Donnell from Ballinameen, Co Roscommon.

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