Support for Independents likely to dictate outcome
REDEFINING BOUNDARIES:The revision makes Tipperary difficult to predict, but the Lowry machine seems secure, writes MICHAEL O'REGAN, Parliamentary Correspondent
COULD THE new five-seat Tipperary constituency possibly return three Independents to the Dáil? Although conventional political wisdom would dismiss such a possibility, it is likely that three high-profile outgoing Independent TDs could be seeking re-election.
There is the usual expectation that Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil will each take a seat, leaving the remaining two up for grabs. This should see the three outgoing Independents in an intense battle with other candidates.
But things are more complicated than that.
Tipperary North’s Michael Lowry is no ordinary Independent. A consistent poll-topper, his organisation has seven councillors in its ranks, making it something of a local political party in its own right.
The Holycross-based former Fine Gael minister has topped the poll in every general election since becoming an Independent in 1997. In the last general election, he secured 14,104 first preferences, or 29 per cent of the vote. Locally, he is seen as unstoppable in the new constituency. Right now, nobody is ruling out Lowry repeating his poll-topping feat in the new constituency.
If this were to happen, and four seats were spoken for, Mattie McGrath and Séamus Healy would probably be among those fighting for the remaining seat.
The outcome of this potential bloodbath would be impossible to predict.
McGrath and Healy, who is effectively an Independent despite using the ULA banner, will not be easily unseated. Both are tough and tenacious politicians with strong track records.
McGrath was first elected to the Dáil for Fianna Fáil in 2007 but left the party to run as an Independent last time over issues including stag hunting and the EU-IMF bailout.
Inevitably, there is speculation that McGrath, from Clonmel, might return to his old party in an act of mutual political convenience. Party leader Micheál Martin would welcome the boost to his depleted Dáil numbers should McGrath return before the next general election.
McGrath might reckon that a return to the fold would enhance his chances of holding his seat, particularly if the party increases its poll ratings between now and the election.
Asked about a possible reconciliation, he said that when Fianna Fáil came back to him, he would go back to the party. “It has to be the party of the values that Fianna Fáil was proud of,” he added. “For instance, I am totally opposed to same-sex marriage which is now part of Fianna Fáil policy.”
Healy was first elected to the Dáil in a byelection in 2000, after unsuccessful attempts in 1992 and 1997. He retained his seat in the 2002 general election but lost it in 2007.
He polled 8,818 first preferences in the general election, just behind poll-topper Fine Gael’s Tom Hayes. He was well ahead of Labour’s Phil Prendergast, competing in a one-time stronghold for the party, and a strong transfer from Prendergast eventually secured him a seat.