Around 100,000 voters go to the polls throughout Tipperary this Friday in what is expected to be a watershed election for the two constituencies of Tipperary North and Tipperary South.
For the first time ever, Fianna Fail is facing the prospect of having no seat in either constituency, due mainly to the collapse in support following the Government’s handling of the bank bailout.
Both constituencies remain hard to call and no one in any of the parties contacted by the Tipperary Star this week was prepared to make a final call on how the seats will be divided, with the exception of all agreeing that Michael Lowry will head the poll in Tipperary North and Mr Healy and outgoing Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes will do the same in the south.
All of the main parties have carried out private polls in the past while, with a very slight differential in each. Two of the polls showed Michael Lowry at up to 34 per cent, but many believe that those polls were skewed by the fact that they were taken very early in the campaign before the Fine Gael bounce.
A poll taken in the past week has Independent Deputy Lowry at a more credible 25 per cent, a four per cent drop from 2007, with Deputy Noel Coonan of FG on 19 per cent, an increase of four per cent; Labour’s Alan Kelly on 17 per cent, up from 10 per cent and Deputy Maire Hoctor, FF, on 14 per cent, down from 16 per cent, with the next highest candidate, Sinn Fein’s Cllr Seamus Morris coming in at nine per cent, an increase of six per cent. Fianna Fail’s level of support tallies in all the polls taken, with the lowest coming in at 12 per cent.
One campaigner said that it was believed Deputy Lowry could be 500 votes either side of the quota after the first count.
“The Fine Gael swing could be strong enough to give Coonan 20 per cent, but 19 seems to be the lowest percentage. It looks like it’s going to be a right scrap between Kelly and Hoctor for the last seat, with Kelly just shading it. Though the Fianna Fail vote has consolidated over the past days, it may not be possible to drive it on,” they said.
Part of the reason for Deputy Coonan looking comfortable in second place is because of the high proportion of Fine Gael voters that have come into the constituency around Shinrone and Moneygall. And with no clear-cut candidate in Roscrea, he is expected to do well in that part of the constituency.
It looks likely that Cllr Morriss’s transfers could be vital to who ever gets that third seat, with the SF man expected to poll just under 3,000 first preferences. His inability to make a serious challenge is down to the fact the Fianna Fail have always commanded the republican vote in Tipperary. The last Sinn Fein candidate to hit around the same mark was Tomas MacGiolla.
The general consensus was that Independent Thurles councillor Billy Clancy, who is aligned to the New Vision group, would capture about 1,000 votes, with the Green Party and Independent Kate Bopp failing to register.
The only candidate to comment ahead of Friday’s election was Deputy Lowry, who said he had not carried out any private polls, though he had seen results from several other polls which showed “confusing” results. However, “the only poll that matters is the one on polling day.” He said his vote might be “well back” on previous years, and that he may not reach the quota on the first count.
The situation for the third seat in Tipperary South is equally hard to call, with many predicting that Sen Phil Prendergast’s support has risen to 14 per cent, while Independent Mattie McGrath’s support is thought to have declined due in part to Fianna Fail supporters turning away from him following his decision to resign from the party.
It is widely expected that Seamus Healy of the Unemployed and Workers Action Group and Tom Hayes will be elected on the first count.
Fianna Fail Junior Minister Martin Mansergh, who was elected in 2007 with just 54 votes to spare over Healy, is expected to lose out.
The three-week campaign was dominated by national politics, with the bank bailout and jobs being top of the agenda for most people. However, local issues that crept in were the threats to Nenagh General Hospital and South Tipperary General Hospital, especially the recommended closure of St Michael’s psychiatric unit.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was due in Thurles this Wednesday afternoon in a final effort to sway voters.