Election 2020: Wicklow constituency profile
Entry of former RTÉ journalist Valerie Cox into race could shake up battle for seats
Simon Harris is expected to comfortably hold his seat. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Wicklow (five seats)
Current: 2 FG, 2 FF, 1 SF
This is such a big constituency that locals quip it comprises two counties – Wicklow and “Wickla”. Residents in north Wicklow are most likely to take the Dart and work in Dublin while those in Arklow are closer to Wexford and more likely to shop in Gorey as people living in Baltinglass look to Kildare for their community.
The national trend is against Fine Gael, with vehement criticism of the Government’s record on health and the calling of an election because it could not guarantee the numbers to win a vote of no confidence against the Minister for Health and local TD Simon Harris.
Locally, however, Harris has something of the Teflon touch, is a good talker and popular. He has a strong Greystones base and is expected to comfortably hold his seat.
Fine Gael had three seats in 2011 after which third TD Billy Timmins left Fine Gael over its stance on abortion. He subsequently joined Renua but lost his seat in 2016. He quietly rejoined the party in 2018 and was selected as the party’s third candidate along with Harris and Minister of State Andrew Doyle for the forthcoming election.
There is a mighty battle between Doyle and Timmins and some have questioned the wisdom of running three candidates this time around.
In 2016, Doyle took the last seat without reaching the quota. Pundits say the low-key Minister of State is vulnerable and if there are two Fine Gael seats could lose out to Timmins.
Sinn Féin TD John Brady faces a challenge from former Sinn Féin Cllr John Snell, one of three councillors expelled in a row over support for the party’s leadership on the county council, but his solid work in the constituency should see him over the line.
The green brand is very strong in the Garden County where the Green Party is fielding Cllr Steven Matthews although the councillor is little known outside the Bray area.
Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly who first entered the Dáil in 2011 as an Independent, topped the poll in 2016 for the Social Democrats but left shortly afterwards, went briefly Independent and then joined Fianna Fáil as health spokesman.
Local resentment at his defection will reduce his vote as will the need to build a new voter base after his defection and he is far from secure although there is a trend towards Fianna Fáil. But Social Democrats councillor Jennifer Whitmore could poll well.
The entrance of former RTÉ journalist Valerie Cox into the race could shake up the battle particularly in Arklow which has no TD. A high profile candidate campaigning for older people, she is expected to poll very well although her late entry may have an impact.
Another late entrant is Laragh sheep farmer Tom Dunne who is expected to affect voting for candidates in farming areas in the south of the county.
That includes effective Fianna Fáil TD Pat Casey, battling geographically with Andrew Doyle (Fine Gael), Snell, and Labour councillor Paul O’Brien. Labour had a seat in Wicklow in the previous Dáil and he too could poll well.
Wicklow is a commuter county and poor rail services and employment in the south of the county are significant issues as is traffic congestion, the cost of living and the developing campaign over the rising pension age.
Prediction: FF 2, FG 1, SF 1, IND 1
Candidates: Simon Harris (FG), Andrew Doyle (FG), Billy Timmins (FG), Pat Casey (FF), Stephen Donnelly (FF), John Brady (SF), Paul O’Brien (Lab), Jennifer Whitmore (Soc Dem), Sharon Briggs (PBP), Steven Matthews (GP), Séamus Connor (Aontú), Eileen Gunning (National Party), Joe Behan (Ind), John Snell (Ind), Valerie Cox (Ind), Charlie Keddy (Ind), John Joseph Larkin (Ind), William King (Ind), Anthony FitzGerald (Ind), Tom Dunne (Ind)