FG senses tide turning in Carlow-Kilkenny byelection

Fine Gael confident that former stalwart Phil Hogan’s seat can be held by David Fitzgerald

 Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin with Carlow-Kilkenny byelection candidate Bobby Aylward at the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis in  Dublin last month. Photograph:  Stephen Collins/Collins

Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin with Carlow-Kilkenny byelection candidate Bobby Aylward at the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis in Dublin last month. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

 

Fine Gael is making a late push in the upcoming byelection in Carlow-Kilkenny as it senses its candidate could beat the current favourite, Fianna Fáil’s Bobby Aylward. Party sources say they are now “in with a sniff” of holding the seat vacated when Phil Hogan resigned to become European Commissioner. The Fine Gael candidate, David Fitzgerald, is based in Kilkenny city.

Almost all of the party’s senior and junior ministers have visited the constituency in recent days, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny canvassing once a week. Mr Kenny is also expected to visit again twice this week.

The increased effort by Fine Gael has been noticed by some of their rivals in Fianna Fáil, although they still maintain Mr Aylward will still take the seat. Most members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party met in Kilkenny this week and leader Micheál Martin has been a consistent presence in the constituency.

Mr Aylward and Fianna Fáil have been considered the favourites for some time and a loss would be a blow to Mr Martin, who has faced criticism of his leadership of the party. However, one of its strongest critics has been Kilkenny city-based TD John McGuinness, who will be expected to work hard to secure Mr Aylward’s election.

Sinn Féin’s Kathleen Funchion is said by party sources to be getting a good reception in Carlow, but is not as popular in rural south Kilkenny or parts of Kilkenny city. “Kilkenny was not hit as hard by austerity,” said one. “The reception has been better in the towns around Carlow.”

Possibly as a means of underlining their perceived advantage in the county, Sinn Féin is hosting a meeting of the party’s ardchomhairle in Carlow this coming weekend.

Sources across all parties maintain Mr Aylward is proving more popular in south Kilkenny, his home area, with Mr McGuinness focusing his canvassing efforts on the city.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, who is Fine Gael’s party’s director of elections, said: “Fine Gael is not favourite to take the seat but the campaign is gathering momentum.”

One party TD privately said Mr Fitzgerald was “in with a sniff” while others speculated Ms Funchion could finish ahead of Mr Aylward on the first count, with the Fianna Fáil TD’s transfers possibly electing Mr Fitzgerald. “Fianna Fáil voters in rural Kilkenny will not transfer to Sinn Féin,” said a source.

Patrick McKee, a former Fianna Fáil councillor who transferred to Lucinda Creighton’s Renua Ireland, is also running. Renua senator Paul Bradford said Mr McKee offered a “positive alternative” to those who did not want to vote Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin or Fine Gael. Others in Renua claimed Mr McKee was picking up Kilkenny city votes from Fianna Fáil and Labour, where former party TD and ceann comhairle Séamus Pattison had his support base.

Labour’s candidateWillie Quinn, a councillor, is viewed as a long shot for the seat. While those in the constituency say the reception for the party is “not as bad as the local elections”, they do not expect to win the seat.