Labour likely to pick up FG seat as Liam Burke retires


CONSTITUENCY NOTEBOOK: If the polls are to be believed, Cork North Central is a foregone conclusion. The three sitting Fianna Fáil TDs will retain their seats, Fine Gael's Mr Bernard Allen will top the poll, and Ms Kathleen Lynch of Labour will take the seat vacated by Liam Burke, who is retiring from politics.

It is difficult to disagree with the results predicted by several different polls in recent weeks. All of them suggested the same results, differing only on the question of who would take the greatest number of first preferences.

At the height of the immigration controversy in Cork, fuelled by the remarks of Mr Noel O'Flynn of Fianna Fáil, a snapshot poll suggested O'Flynn would top the poll. The controversy has now abated somewhat, although Mr O'Flynn insists it is still live on the doorsteps. In the interim, a more detailed poll has put Mr Allen ahead of the rest on 25 per cent, with Mr O'Flynn coming in second.

It even likely that the Fianna Fáil pecking order will be Mr O'Flynn, followed by Mr Billy Kelleher and junior minister Mr Danny Wallace.

Teacher Mr Gerry Kelly has stepped in to fill Mr Liam Burke's shoes, but his chances of retaining the seat for Fine Gael are slim, despite a business-like campaign.

Although well known to the younger voters in the constituency, one of the features of the canvass so far, he says, is the level of disaffection with politics among the young.

The Burke vote was a highly personal one, and a swathe of first preferences that would have gone to him may now be scattered over the rest of the field. But where will they go?

Even opponents of the Labour Party concede that Labour has a natural seat in Cork North Central. It is a constituency made for Ms Kathleen Lynch, who took a seat there before for Democratic Left. All the polls agree that she is on her way back to the Dáil.

Despite its size, Cork North Central does not have an acute general hospital, not since the North Infirmary closed its doors almost two decades ago. For Mr Ted Tynan of the Workers' Party, Independent candidate Mr Joe O'Callaghan, and Sinn Féin's Cllr Jonathan O'Brien, the failure of successive governments to provide a hospital across the river in North Central, is a major election plank.

The chairman of the Progressive Democrats, Mr John Minihan, is hoping that the reservoir of good will which was there for Mairín Quill still exists, but that is unlikely and North Central is not going to do the PDs any favours on this occasion.

Prediction: FF 3, FG1, Lab 1. Labour gain from FG.

1997: FF 35.53%; FG 30.16%; LAB 5.27%; PDS 7.51%; GP 3.04%; SF 3.76%; DL 7.15%; NP 2.53%; CS 1.77%; WP 1.24% Others 2.04%.

Outgoing TDs: Dan Wallace, Billy Kelleher and Noel O'Flynn (FF); Bernard Allen and Liam Burke (FG).