Election 2020: Cork East constituency profile
All the focus will be on the final seat, with Fianna Fáil targeting gain from Sinn Féin
Séan Sherlock survived the battering suffered by Labour to retain his seat in the last election. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Cork East (four seats)
Current: 1 FF, 1 FG, 1 Lab, 1 SF
Cork East may in theory be an open four-seat constituency but in practice tends to be a somewhat more complex affair, with effectively two separate contests taking place in the north and the south.
Historically, the constituency has returned two TDs from north Cork and two from east Cork in the south, with the most successful parties being those that run complementary candidates from opposite ends of the constituency.
Largely rural and heavily dependent on agriculture as well as some tourism interests in the south, the constituency includes towns such as Midleton, Cobh and Youghal in the south and Mallow, Fermoy and Mitchelstown in the north.
And while there is industry in Mallow, Fermoy, Midleton and Cobh, they are also commuter towns to Cork city, making improvements in transport an important local issue along with health and housing in this election.
Last time out, Cork East divided evenly, with two being elected from the north, Kevin O’Keeffe (Fianna Fáil) from Mitchelstown and Séan Sherlock (Labour) from Mallow and two from the south, David Stanton (Fine Gael) and Pat Buckley (Sinn Féin).
O’Keeffe topped the poll with 15.65 per cent of first-preference votes to regain the seat held by his father, Ned, from 1982 to 2011 while Stanton from Midleton took 13.58 per cent of first preferences to retain the seat he first won for Fine Gael in 1997.
Sherlock survived the battering suffered by Labour to take 13.16 per cent of first preferences and retain the seat he first won in 2007, while Buckley from Midleton surprised many by retaining the seat won for Sinn Féin by Sandra McLellan from Youghal in 2011.
All four are bidding to retain their seats and O’Keeffe, Stanton and Sherlock all look to be safe and while Buckley, who won his seat in 2016 on 10.15 per cent of the first-preference vote, looked to be vulnerable at the start of the campaign, the late swing to Sinn Féin should assist him.
Notwithstanding Sinn Féin surging to 25 per cent in The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll this week, all the focus will still be on the final seat, where Buckley is likely to find himself in a real battle with Fianna Fáil’s second candidate, newly elected councillor James O’Connor from Youghal.
Also harbouring ambitions will be Independent councillor Mary Linehan-Foley from Youghal, who polled 5.96 per cent of first preferences in 2016 and first-time Green Party candidate, newly elected councillor Liam Quaide, also from Youghal.
These three contenders for Buckley’s seat can claim to be southern-based, enhancing their chances and it promises to be an intriguing contest, particularly between O’Connor and Linehan-Foley for the Youghal vote, with the Fianna Fáil man the slight favourite to come out on top.
Transfers, where geography may prove as important as party affiliation, will again be critical, with O’Connor hoping to pick up any O’Keeffe surplus as well as transfers from local east Cork candidates to boost his chances but Buckley might just shade it and retain the seat for Sinn Féin.
Prediction: FF 1, FG 1, Lab 1, SF 1
Candidates: Pat Buckley (SF), Mary Linehan-Foley (Ind), James O’Connor (FF), Pa O’Driscoll (FG), Kevin O’Keeffe (FF), Liam Quaide (GP), Séan Sherlock (Lab), David Stanton (FG), Seán O’Leary (Independent), Conor Hannon (Aontú), Shane O’Grady (Independent), Frank Shinnick (Irish Freedom Party), Thomas Kiely (Independent)