VOTERS in Offaly and Laois will go to the polls on Saturday, February 8 in an election which will see at least one of the sitting TDs lose their seats.
At the last election in 2016, Offaly and Laois were separate constituencies, returning three Dail members each but the the traditional Laois-Offaly five-seater has been reconstituted.
Fine Gael’s Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Fianna Fail’s Barry Cowen and the Independent, Carol Nolan, will be defending their seats in Offaly.
In Laois, Minister Charlie Flanagan will seek to retain his seat for Fine Gael, as will Fianna Fail’s Sean Fleming and Brian Stanley, Sinn Fein.
The election battle in Offaly is set to be fiercely competitive with Fianna Fail clearly aiming for two seats after the selection of Cllr Peter Ormond, currently chair of the County Council, in the south of the county.
A Shinrone man, his candidacy will see him face off geographically against both outgoing female TDs, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, who lives in Clareen but is a native of Ferbane, and Cadamstown resident Deputy Nolan, who won a seat for Sinn Fein four years ago but left the party because of her opposition to abortion.
The picture in south and mid-Offaly is crowded further by the presence in the field of Cllr John Leahy, an Independent candidate from Kilcormac who stood for Renua Ireland in 2016 having previously run as a non-party candidate in 2011.
Originally, the race was even more congested because Fine Gael had selected Kinnitty publican and businessman Cllr John Clendennen but he later withdrew his nomination.
That means Fine Gael will have just two names on the ballot paper. Fianna Fail are persisting with four candidates after the addition of Pauline Flanagan, a former Laois councillor who lost her seat last May.
The Green Party, already touted as kingmakers in the next government because Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will fall far short of an overall majority, will be hoping sole candidate Pippa Hackett can cause an upset by taking a seat in Laois-Offaly.
A resident of Geashill, where she runs an organic farm with her husband Mark, she was elected to Offaly County Council for the first time last May but relinquished her seat when she was elevated to the Seanad in November.
Her time in the Oireachtas has proved short-lived but she will be hoping the ‘green wave’ which benefitted her party in the local and European elections last summer will sweep her to the Dail.
Cllr Ken Smollen, the Clara resident and Tullamore native who won a seat for the Irish Democratic Party in the Tullamore Electoral Area last year, was actively considering his Dail candidacy yesterday evening (Tuesday).
His first ever electoral outing was in 2016 when he sought a Dail seat in the Offaly constituency.
In that election, Deputy Cowen topped the poll with a 28 per cent share of the first preference vote (12,366), followed by Deputy Corcoran Kennedy and Deputy Nolan, with the latter pipping Fianna Fail’s Cllr Eddie Fitzpatrick for the last of the three seats by only 170 votes.
Cllr Fitzpatrick, a farmer in Cloneyhurke, will not be on the ballot paper this time because both the Offaly and Laois sides of Portarlington have been moved from Laois-Offaly to the Kildare South constituency.
Former Fianna Fail member Cllr John Foley, Edenderry, was an unsuccessful candidate in three previous elections but had not confirmed his intentions for this poll yesterday evening.
In 2016 part of north Tipperary was added to Offaly to create the new constituency and Cllr Joe Hannigan, a publican in Kilbarron, polled well and will now run in Tipperary.
In the February 2016 election in Laois, Fianna Fail’s Deputy Fleming was the poll-topper, with a 35 per cent share, followed by Deputy Flanagan and Stanley, with the now Fine Gael Minister just 128 votes ahead on the first count. There were only three other candidates and all three outgoing deputies were comfortably re-elected.
The Labour Party confirmed this week it will not have a candidate in Laois-Offaly.
In 1992 Tullamore man Pat Gallagher broke the mould in the constituency by winning a seat at the expense of Fine Gael’s Tom Enright.
He was not re-elected in the next election in 1997 when the constituency returned to its familiar status of three Fianna Fail and two Fine Gael TDs.
Then in 2002 former IFA president, the Coolderry man Tom Parlon, won a seat for the Progressive Democrats, with Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan losing out.
Mr Parlon served just one term too and Deputy Flanagan returned to the Dail. Then in 2011 the Fianna Fail national meltdown saw Sinn Fein’s Brian Stanley win the seat held for 14 years by Mountmellick publican John Moloney.
That was the last time voters in Offaly and Laois went to the polls as a united constituency and Charlie Flanagan topped the poll with 10,443 first preferences, followed by Barry Cowen on 8,257.
Both were elected along with Deputy Stanley who received 8,032 number ones, Sean Fleming (6,024) and Marcella Corcoran Kennedy (5,817).
The Fine Gael share of the vote was 33.7 per cent, Fianna Fail’s 26.7 per cent and Sinn Fein 10.8 per cent.
Deputy Cowen and Minister Flanagan will once again be the front runners in the contest on February 8 but in an indication that Fianna Fail will make a strong effort to maximise Cllr Ormond’s vote, publicity material released yesterday had his image in a more prominent position than the younger brother of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
At time of writing, the definite candidates in Laois-Offaly are - Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Minister Charlie Flanagan (Fine Gael); Deputy Barry Cowen, Deputy Sean Fleming, Cllr Peter Ormond and Pauline Flanagan (Fianna Fail); Deputy Brian Stanley (Sinn Fein); Deputy Carol Nolan (Independent); Senator Pippa Hackett (Green Party); Cllr John Leahy (Independent).