People to watch in 2016: Politics

With a general election looming, a new cohort of politicians are hoping for success in 2016. Harry McGee points to five expected do well at the ballot boxes

L-R: John Leahy (Renua), Eoin O’Broin (Sinn Fein), Jack Chambers (Fianna Fail). Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

L-R: John Leahy (Renua), Eoin O’Broin (Sinn Fein), Jack Chambers (Fianna Fail). Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

MAURAHOPKINS_WEBMaura Hopkins
Fine Gael

Hopkins is an unlikely candidate in Roscommon-East Galway. The party won two of the three seats in this constituency in the last election, and it seemed its two TDs were not going anywhere. But then Denis Naughten left Fine Gael over the thorny issue of Roscommon Hospital.

The other TD, Frank Feighan, who defended party policy on the hospital, had a miserable Dáil term and over-reacted on occasion. He announced he was standing down. That has left the door open for the 31-year old Hopkins.

Her geographical base is not great – Ballaghaderreen in the northwest corner – but she has more than made up for that with her zest and charm.

Fine Gael had poor local elections in 2014, but Hopkins bucked the trend by winning a seat. And then, in the byelection in the constituency that year to elect a replacement for Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, she performed strongly when her party’s stock was low, coming in third.

An occupational therapist by profession, Hopkins was initially hesitant in her public appearances but has improved substantially. Fianna Fáil’s problems here have helped her case. She is the favourite to take the third and last seat here after Naughten and Michael Fitzmaurice.

EOIN_OBROIN_WEBEoin Ó Broin
Sinn Féin

He’s not a TD yet, but he has been Sinn Féin’s rising star for a long time. From Cabinteely in south Dublin, Ó Broin (43) was educated at Blackrock College and was a “mod” for a while in his youth. He has been involved with republican politics since university and spent his 20s living in Belfast, where he was elected a councillor.

Since returning to Dublin, Ó Broin has been an influential strategist for the party and the strongest advocate of staying out of coalition unless Sinn Féin is the dominant party. Invariably polite in person, his debating style is highly partisan, and he is not immune to a dig or two under the belt.

Ó Broin is a polished debater who is always in command of the facts and is not shy in letting you know it. He is a shoo-in in Dublin Mid West and will quickly be elevated to the party’s first bench.

JACK_CHAMBERS_WEBJack Chambers
Fianna Fáil

The candidate from central casting. Dublin West is possibly Fianna Fáil most aristocratic constituency, now that its existence in Dublin Rathdown and Dún Laoghaire has been put into question. Most of its support here has been drawn from middle-class Castleknock, where the Lenihans (Brian snr and Brian jnr) ruled the roost. That said, when the party was strong it picked up support everywhere.

Chambers, a councillor since 2014, emerged as the candidate after a keenly fought selection convention last February against Cllr David McGuinness from the working-class area of Corduff. McGuinness had stood for the party in two byelections and acquitted himself well.

The party, though, thought its best chances of regaining a seat was with a candidate from Castleknock. Chambers recently qualified with a degree in medicine and already holds a degree in law.

Still in his mid-20s, this tall, dark-haired candidate is articulate and confident. Labour leader Joan Burton and Minister for Health Leo Varadkar are TDs here. Locals say he will have to dislodge a big name to win; his party is confident he will.

JOHN_LEAHY_WEBJohn Leahy
Renua Ireland

A new party and a new candidate, Leahy was elected in Offaly as an independent councillor in 2009 and was seen as left-leaning on a wide range of issues. There was some surprise when he joined the right-of-centre Renua Ireland. He was one of the party’s founding members when it was established in April 2015.

Leahy (36), from Kilcormac, is married with two young children. Besides his work as a councillor, he volunteers for the GAA as a coaching coordinator and games promotion officer in Co Offaly. He has been deeply involved in community projects in his native county since his early 20s.

Leahy was one of the three public faces of Renua at the time of its formation, along with Lucinda Creighton and Eddie Hobbs. He has played a prominent role in policy formation and has also been a frequent spokesman for the party. As for his chances in the new constituency of Offaly, he is in the mix for the last seat, even though it will be ultra-competitive, as elsewhere.

MG0901WATCH_POLITICS_1_WEBLorraine Higgins
Labour

Labour will lose a good few seats in the election, so very few emerging candidates are standing for the party. One is Lorraine Higgins, who is standing in Galway East.

A barrister by profession, Higgins was a candidate for Labour in the last election. She performed well but it was her then- running mate, Colm Keaveney, who reaped the benefits, winning the party a seat for the first time in this constituency.

A Taoiseach’s nominee to the Seanad, Higgins has had a high profile in the Upper House and ran a credible campaign in the European elections, even though Labour’s chances of winning a seat was non-existent.

Keaveney has since left the party and joined Fianna Fáil, and will be standing in the election as a rival. The constituency has been reduced in size to a three-seater, and Higgins is regarded as a long shot in the race for the final seat.

She has spoken out during her terms against online bullying and trolling (she has received threats on Twitter and Facebook). She is also a very good golfer and has captained the Leinster House golfing society. 

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