By Paddy Ryan
The comparisons to the fate of the Tipperary General Election candidates to the runners and riders in the Aintree Grand National are startling. The anticipation and nerves have started weeks before the off. Each analysing the other, assessing potential weaknesses and when best to go for home.
With 9,000 votes already being lost by the north to Offaly and 1,500 being lost in the south to Waterford, the contest is almost too hard to call. The electorate are in the grand stands watching as each of the candidates are jostling for position. Last week, the starter raised his flag. They were off
The first 5 fences are the same as the great race. Candidates are approaching the fences with energy and force. The pent up nerves of the anticipation of the election campaign might mean they are fool hardy in the approach but the should be looking at preserving energy in these early stages.
On approaching Becher’s Brook for the first time, Michael Lowry already with a substantial lead, is interviewed by Newstalks Chris Donoghue without debate or the ability for other candidates to challenge his record or credibility. He comes through unscathed and looks at the outset to be in the parade ring when the race is run.
The next three candidates approaching Becher’s Brook are Michael Smith, Mattie McGrath and Minister Alan Kelly. Smith, eager to show he is a young energetic contender, show’s he is still green when it comes to taking advantage on a radio debate. After the first few minutes of the radio debate, he found his feet and was far more comfortable. Mattie McGrath, a contender previously from the same stable as Smith, hammers down his key points. Alan Kelly, now already seeing Lowry with an almost insurmountable lead cries foul that a candidate of such pedigree is allowed to compete without any handicap or fair debate “I hope we all get fair coverage, I found it fairly disturbing that a competitor of hours got prime time coverage on your show earlier on this morning which I think is something a lot of people will need to reflect on”. The point is a fair one. Each candidate should be allowed to compete on a level playing field and all candidates should be open to fair debate, but it was too late now. Kelly now faces his own challenge to maintain his seat, not to top the poll.
Michael Smith, asked several key questions putting a squeeze on Alan Kelly, but Kelly stood firm, defiant. The comments which were raised by Smith had been addressed in the last 48 hours. McGrath forces the point also and comes across Kelly comments on numerous times, cutting the Minister off and allowing him no room for comfort. McGrath, conscious he was in Thurles stressed about the lack of jobs in the locality and the broadband infrastructure in Tipperary not being up to standard. Smith and McGrath push the point and highlights the challenges faced by schools and businesses. While trying to defend his record in Government, Kelly is prevented from getting his point across and retaliates stating that the infrastructure has been improved dramatically since the last administration. “We in Government inherited from these two Fianna Fáil chaps beside me”… the knives were out at Kelly continued “You resigned four weeks before the last election to save your skin”. The 3 had cleared Becher’s, still neck and neck but the gloves were now off.
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In the days that have followed the candidates are beginning to settle out and find their stride, each believing they are still the one who can win, the best choice for the people. Foinavon is one of the easier fences to navigate and predictably all the candidates have gone unscathed but positions are becoming more clear.
On the Wednesday before St. Valentines Day, it was only apt that RTE news covered the Election in Tippeary. This was their Valentines. Sharon Ní Bheolain opened a TV Debate between Noel Coonan, Alan Kelly and Michael Lowry stating the contest in the redrawn Tipperary is set to be a riveting one. Tipperary is widely seen as a barometer for the rest of Ireland. Sharon wasn’t wasting any time immediately asking Michael Lowry if he’d be supporting a Government if elected. The experienced Lowry stated that his focus was on getting on elected, and not on the formation of the next government. Sharon put the question to Lowry regarding his tax affairs. Lowry reaffirmed that his affairs were in order and had not been contacted regarding the formation of a government.
When speaking to Sharon, Kelly was keen to keen to point out that jobs were on the way. FirstData and many other companies were on the way to Tipperary. Defending his record on job creation, Kelly pointed out the amount of jobs lost in the county and more jobs were on the way should Fine Gael and Labour be re-elected. Noel Coonan defended rural Ireland and the governments record. Holding their own when questioned by Sharon, it was a solid performance all round.
Valentines isn’t without controversy however and has been known to take . News today began to circulate that Mattie McGrath would support a Fine Gael government if elected but this would be to get the best deal for Tipperary and ensuring that the 8th Amendment is not repealed. Seamus Healy was quick to attack McGrath stating McGrath is running with the hare and hunting with the hound. There is no mercy being shown and it is clearly every man and woman for themselves.
Tipperary is set to become one with the coming election and there’s no doubt that the coming weeks will continue to replicate the Grand National. The great race has been known and made famous for taking large scalps. There is one thing for sure, one sitting TD at least will lose their seat.
The Lowry factor continues to dominate with the Holycross native the only TD who looks set to be returned. From the remaining 4, it is widely acknowledged that there should be one Fine Gael and one Fianna Fáil seat at least, which would suggest a second sitting TD will also lose their seat. The figures from the local elections in 2014, the general election in 2011 and recent polls would suggest the smaller candidates valiant efforts may go in vein as the early counts will see our first casualties. Their transfers will be instrumental in the dog fight for the last two seats with Healy, Morris, McGrath and Kelly sure to be fighting it out with at a Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil candidate for the last seat.
As with the great race, the jumping of Beechers for a second time will see some high profile casualties as 6 candidates plough into the birch and only two can make it to the other side. Your vote and ensuring you vote down all the way along the page will be instrumental in the election of Tipperary’s 5 new TD’s.