November 30, 2020
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ELECTION 2020 SPECIAL: Páidí Manning – Who will be your TDs in 33rd Dáil? We assess the runners and riders in Carlow-Kilkenny

The Carlow-Kilkenny constituency is traditionally one of the most conservative in the country, and up until recently it was widely expected to return three Fianna Fáil TDs and two from Fine Gael, with Sinn Féin’s Kathleen losing out. Or so we thought…

Now the tide appears to have turned fairly dramatically in Kathleen’s favour following a strong campaign locally and a surge in support for Sinn Féin nationally.

So where does this leave the main local contenders for a seat in the  next Dáil? PÁIDÍ MANNING assesses the runners and rider with just four days to go before the country goes to the polls.

Bobby Aylward TD – Fianna Fáil

Bobby took 9,366 first preference votes in 2016, polling strongly across all four electoral districts in Kilkenny and taking approximately 800 votes out of Carlow. His vote management strategy with his ‘bestie’ John McGuinness? Go hell for leather and try and swipe more votes than the other. Barring a shock collapse in his vote, he should be comfortable and take a seat.


John McGuinness TD – Fianna Fáil

The safest seat in Ireland, although you’re not supposed to say that kind of thing and John certainly won’t thank you for saying it! A thorn in the side of many a political leader over the years, John is one of the most high profile and well respected politicians in Ireland. With a finely tuned political machine behind him, it would be a shock result if anybody but John McGuinness tops the poll although, whisper it, rumour has it that Sinn Féin are polling ahead of him, whether you choose to believe that or not.


Senator Jennifer Murnane O’Connor – Fianna Fáil

If Jennifer doesn’t take a seat in this election, it will be an awful result for Fianna Fáil and Micheál Martin. So no pressure Jennifer! Fianna Fáil took 40% of the vote in this constituency in the 2016 election yet failed to take the third seat due to poor vote management. With SF mounting a comeback in this constituency, Jennifer will have to knock Deering out of the race in order to take a seat. If she’s learned lessons from 2016 and is able to pull back some of the Carlow votes that Aylward and McGuinness took out of the county she’s in with a good shout.


Kathleen Funchion TD – Sinn Féin

Rumours of Kathleen’s political demise have been greatly exaggerated. Sinn Féin are putting in a strong performance in this General Election campaign after the particularly bruising 2019 local elections. Being ‘excluded’ from some of the debates was a politically advantageous kickstart to the campaign and Kathleen’s boss Mary Lou McDonald has done well on the televised debates she has appeared on. Having lost all bar one of their councillors across the seven electoral districts in this constituency, the SF seat was being targeted by other parties and candidates. Some SF sources were privately conceding this seat before the election was called: you won’t find a single concession now.


Councillor Denis Hynes – Labour

Once a constituency with a strong Labour presence, Séamus Pattison held a safe Labour seat in Carlow/Kilkenny for just shy of 46 years. The best Labour can hope for now is a respectable performance upon which they can build upon. Polling at 5% nationally in the last Red C poll, Denis will be doing well to get that here.


Councillor Patrick O’Neill – Fine Gael

A strong performer in the local election, but Patrick is literally miles off a Dáil seat. When the post-mortem of this election takes place, Fine Gael’s candidate selection must come under scrutiny. Running a first time General Election candidate based in Bennettsbridge five miles down the road from their sitting TD’s long-established political base in Thomastown, while leaving North Kilkenny unmarked, is a mistake that will reflect poorly in the ballot box, in my humble and sometimes incorrect opinion. Selected to run for Fine Gael in February 2019, more ground needed to be covered in North Kilkenny over the past year to be in contention.


Pat Deering TD – Fine Gael

Pat Deering is guaranteed at least one vote he didn’t have last time out. This is the first time he’s been able to vote for himself in a General Election after the boundary redraw. Pat was 1,811 first preferences behind Murnane O’Connor on the first count in 2016 before mounting a nail-biting comeback to beat her by 1631 on the 11th and final count. Sinn Féin holding their seat in Carlow-Kilkenny puts an end to the dream of two TDs for Carlow and Pat will hope that he’s done enough over the last four years locally to close the first preference gap and hold onto the seat. Failure to do so would put Fine Gael back to a single TD in the constituency, which would be a woeful result for Varadkar and the party.


John Paul Phelan TD – Fine Gael

Prior to the last General Election, then backbench TD John Paul was threatening to quit politics should Waterford successfully annex an inch of Kilkenny land. That landgrab is long-since dead and John Paul faces a very different election as Minister of State for Local Government, a position which ironically oversees county boundaries. Once wary of courting controversy, he has become increasingly vocal and blunt in recent years. A close ally of Leo Varadkar, JP will likely be a Cabinet Minister if FG is returned to power. He’ll be hoping that the funding funnelled into the constituency as a minister will be enough to hold the two seats.

Malcolm Noonan – The Green Party                           

The only Green Party representative in a rural constituency, the Greens will be disappointed if they don’t take this seat. In a Dublin constituency, he’d already be a TD. Malcolm should transfer well from other candidates, although there won’t be too many farmers giving the Greens a preference. If Sinn Féin polls as well as I expect them to in Carlow/Kilkenny, Malcolm will not be elected in General Election 2020.

Helena Byrne – Renua

Helena will have the honour of being Renua’s last ever election candidate in the Carlow/Kilkenny constituency. Renua will die out as a political party once they lose their €250,000 a year state funding when they inevitably fail to get 2% of the national vote this time out. Polling a poor 288 votes in the Tullow district for the 2019 local elections, Helena will be eliminated early on with a fraction of Patrick McKee’s 2016 vote. Interestingly, Helena’s grandfather Patrick ‘Paddy’ Teehan was a four-term senator who won the 1960 bye-election for Fianna Fáil before losing it in the 1961 General Election. Had Helena plied her political trade with her grandfather’s party, her political fortunes may have been very different.


Angela Ray – Independent

Carlow based supporter of Gemma O’Doherty. Angela has listed the repeal of the Children’s Referendum on her election leaflet as one of her key ambitions. Will be one of the first eliminated.


Melissa O’Neill – Irish Freedom Party

Melissa was drafted in by Sinn Féin with approximately three weeks to the 2014 Local Election polling day, where she narrowly came second in terms of first preferences votes and took a seat before being expelled from the party two years later. Melissa’s first preference vote as an Independent in the Piltown district fell to 233 votes in 2019. She also ran in the Tramore-West Waterford district in the same election, polling 81 first preferences, followed by an unsuccessful campaign in the 2019 Wexford by-election. Melissa can soon add General Election 2020 to the list of unsuccessful elections, and will be amongst the bottom four candidates.


Alan Hayes – Independent

The youngest candidate in the race by a country mile, 23 year old Alan is a seasoned campaigner and a director of local mental health charity Teac Tom. This will be his first election in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency where he’ll be hoping to capitalise on his youth and television appearances. A three-week General Election campaign is not enough time to increase your political profile in a constituency where very strong and high-profile incumbents have worked on the ground for years, and for that reason I don’t believe he’ll be in contention for a seat this time around.


Councillor Adrienne Wallace – People Before Profit

Young, combative and ideologically driven, Adrienne tears strips off opponents during debates. Barring an unlikely high surplus, a strong Sinn Féin performance won’t do her any favours with Funchion hoovering up approximately 2,900 anti-establishment votes in Carlow in 2016. Having run in a by-election, a General Election, a local election and a European election, I reckon Adrienne would be a contender for a seat in a different constituency but she won’t be taking a seat in General Election 2020.


Prediction: All sitting TDs returned

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