Kremlin may decide outcome of Cavan Monaghan election

 

THE result of the next election in Cavan Monaghan could be decided in the Kremlin. We are told that when the Russians created their 23 county Ireland, Monaghan was not included.

Unless the Russians can be persuaded to change their minds about Monaghan beef, then voters will very likely take it out on the Government parties at the polling booth.

The most over used word in Irish politics is "loyalty" but observers agree it was this commodity which brought Fianna Fail's Jimmy Leonard back to the Dail, time after time, despite prophecies of doom from the commentators.

Leonard's home base of north Monaghan was loyal to him on every occasion but one since 1973. The sole exception was the emotive H Block election of 1981 when he lost his seat to the hunger striker, Kieran Doherty.

Now Leonard has decided to call it a day and Fianna Fail delegates assemble tonight in Cootehill to choose a candidate to replace him.

The front runner is his daughter, Ms Ann Leonard (27), a nurse and midwife. She is secretary of the Fianna Fail Women's Group in Co Monaghan but cannot be said to have a high political profile. Nevertheless, the name and the family connection with a respected outgoing TD should see her safely through tonight's vote.

The political veteran and chairman of Monaghan County Council, Mr Patsy Treanor, would also be a strong contender but, at time of writing, he had still not revealed his intentions. If he runs, it will be the "battle of the nurses" as Treanor is a community psychiatric nurse based in Carrickmacross.

Others mentioned include the chairman of the GAA county board in Monaghan, Mr Aidan Quigley; Mr Gerry Traynor, a Ballybay town commissioner; Mr John Clerkin, an urban councillor from Monaghan town; Mr Alo Mohan and Mr P.J. McCague, both urban councillors in Clones. There have been internal disagreements in the Fianna Fail cumann in Clones but daily what the cumann lacks in harmony it makes up for in ambition.

When the white smoke emerges from the convention, the name Leonard will in all probability remain on the general election ballot paper. The question is will voter loyalty be passed on to the new generation? There are other formidable contenders for Leonard's seat.

Labour's Ms Ann Gallagher came from nowhere in 1992 to take 4,543 first preferences and was only eliminated on the eighth count. Her opponents have dubbed her, with a hint of jealousy, "the Minister for Welcomes" as she has made a point of publicly welcoming measures by Labour Ministers, especially in Environment and Education, that have benefited the constituency.

Ms Gallagher was elected to the Seanad on the industrial and commercial panel - she is young, enthusiastic and a good door to door canvasser. Her party performed poorly in the town council elections in 1994, however, Ms Gallagher was not a candidate.

Another formidable contender is Mr Caoimhghin O Caolain who is seen as Sinn Fein's best prospect for a Dail seat. If he succeeds he will be the first Sinn Fein TD to take an active part in the proceedings of Leinster House - his predecessors did not take their seats.

Formerly a senior bank official with no republican background, Mr O Caolain joined Sinn Fein as a result of his activities in support of the H Block hunger strikers. The Labour hurricane dislodged some of his vote last time but he still came in with more than 4,000 first preferences, despite being banned from TV and radio at the time under Section 31.

Independent observers say O Caolain will have his best chance of a seat if there is an IRA ceasefire. He has repeatedly topped the poll in local elections; his party polled very strongly in the municipal elections of June, 1994, two months before the ceasefire, in Monaghan town, Castleblayney and Clones but it has yet to make a breakthrough in Cavan.

Except for the H Block election, Cavan Monaghan has traditionally divided three two between the Civil War parties. The Fine Gael seats are held by Mr Andrew Boylan, in Cavan and Mr Seymour Crawford, in Monaghan. Boylan's seat is considered safe but Crawford may be in trouble because of BSE.

A long time IFA activist, Crawford is seen as "the farmers man" and he will he expected to "bring Monaghan back from Siberia". Last time out, he took the seat from his party colleague, Mr Bill Cotter, even though Cotter, who is now a senator, had more first preferences than either Crawford or Boylan.

The Cavan based Fianna Fail TD, Mr Brendan Smith, worked as personal assistant to the former Tanaiste, Mr John Wilson, for 15 years. When Wilson retired at the last election, Smith took the seat and he should hold onto it without too much difficulty.

His Fianna Fail colleague, Dr Rory O'Hanlon, may be chairman of the parliamentary party and a former Minister for Health but he is best known these days as the father of the comedian Ardal O'Hanlon, one of the stars of the TV series, Father Ted.

Although Monaghan based, Dr O'Hanlon has transcended the traditional hostility between the two counties and draws considerable support from east Cavan where he has practised as a doctor. Some believe, however, that east Cavan needs its own candidate and two county councillors, Mr Michael Giles, of Bailieborough, and Mr Clifford Kelly, of Kingscourt, have been mentioned.

Fianna Fail ran four candidates in 1992 but the election strategy committee, chaired by the former European Commissioner, Mr Ray MacSharry, recommended three this time, although the national executive has reserved the right to add a fourth.

The state of the roads in Cavan has been a hot issue for years and candidates from the Cavan Roads Action Group (CRAG) won tour county council seats in 1991. However, they were unable to translate this into general election glory and their candidate, Mr Winston Turner, took less than 2,000 first preferences.

Cows, not potholes, will be the big issue in Cavan Monaghan next time.