FG likely to make gain in Sligo-North Leitrim

Tue, Feb 8, 2011, 00:00

FINE GAEL could be set for a gain in what was once the Fianna Fáil stronghold of Sligo-North Leitrim.

However, there are no certainties, apart from an anticipated poll-topping performance by outgoing Fine Gael TD John Perry, who is expected to be appointed to ministerial office in a likely Fine Gael-Labour coalition.

Perry’s running mate is Sligo councillor Tony McLoughlin, a nephew of Joe McLoughlin, who served as a TD from 1961 to 1979. Tony McLoughlin topped the poll, with more than 2,000 votes in the Sligo-Strandhill area in the 2009 local elections. Circumstances were arguably never more favourable to a Fine Gael gain.

The other outgoing TDs in the three-seater are Fianna Fáil’s Dr Jimmy Devins and Eamon Scanlon.

Devins, who retired, has been replaced on the ticket by Sligo town-based Senator Marc MacSharry, son of former tánaiste and EU commissioner Ray MacSharry.

Ray MacSharry held a Dáil seat for 20 years, and was a key player in securing three seats for the party in the old Sligo-Leitrim constituency. An experienced political strategist, and well known across the constituency, he is working in an intensive canvass for his son.

Fianna Fáil secured more than 40 per cent of the vote the last time, but the party is fighting this election in fraught circumstances.

Nevertheless, MacSharry and Ballymote-based Scanlon are strong candidates. An estimated 500 delegates attended the selection convention at which Micheál Martin delivered a speech as the new party leader.

In the last Dáil, Scanlon resigned the party whip in a row over cancer services at Sligo General Hospital, but later rejoined.

The local consensus is that there is one Fianna Fáil seat this time, with few observers willing to call it definitively between MacSharry, with the advantage of a Sligo town base, and Scanlon, who has a solid track record and appeal to rural voters.

Labour is running journalist Susan O’Keeffe. But the Labour vote is likely to split between her and two Independents, former Labour TD Declan Bree and former Labour councillor Veronica Cawley.

Cawley blames party headquarters for her failure to secure the nomination and her decision to run as an Independent.

If O’Keeffe is ahead of her erstwhile colleagues in first preferences, she could be in contention for the anticipated dog-fight for the third seat.

Alternatively, her transfers could put either Bree or Cawley in contention if they were to outpoll her.

O’Keeffe secured a boost when a veteran Labour activist and party president in the constituency, Tommy Higgins, nominated her as a candidate.

But Cawley’s defection was a considerable setback to the party’s chances of securing a breakthrough.

Sinn Féin’s Michael Colreavy, whose base is Manorhamilton, could benefit from anger among Leitrim people that their county has been divided between two constituencies, leaving the possibility open, yet again, of no Leitrim representative in the next Dáil.

Colreavy will be looking to pick up the 4,684 first preferences secured by Sligo-based Sinn Féin candidate Seán MacManus in 2007.

That vote and geography could put him in contention for the third seat with others, particularly if the Labour vote is fragmented.