There aren’t many constituencies facing as much of a shake-up as Cork North-Central.
Since 2016, when Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher surpassed the quota with 4,000 votes to spare, it has undergone drastic changes.
Three of the four elected in 2016 aren’t even on the ticket this time.
Last May, Kelleher was elected to the European Parliament, vacating a seat that was filled by his party colleague Padraig O’Sullivan. He will be confident of retaining the seat, though, having performed very strongly in the by-election in November.
However, the by-election itself was conducted under the shadow of the bombshell resignation of Fine Gael’s Dara Murphy just days before it took place. Since, his attendance record and expenses have come under heavy scrutiny and questions have to be asked about the damage this has done to the party in the area.
Why was it tolerated? Why did he announce his resignation days before a by-election was taking place in his constituency? Why did it not come months earlier to allow him to be replaced also?
Senator Colm Burke and Lorraine O’Neill can expect this to come up frequently on the doors in the coming weeks when they meet a frustrated electorate.
They will be keen to stand on their own merits and re-focus the debate on other matters but the electorate may keep returning to this question.
Burke, in particular, will be hoping that this is his chance: he has run several times since the 1980s, served as a member of Cork City Council, the European Parliament and the Seanad but the Dáil has, to date, eluded him. It is hard to know whether Murphy’s resignation torpedoed Burke’s chances in the by-election — it was a Fianna Fáil seat in many people’s eyes — but it certainly couldn’t have helped.
It is not just Murphy who has departed.
Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien confirmed his intention to not run again. It was a shock — O’Brien was a TD for nine years, a councillor for 11 years and well respected in the area — but it cleared a path for Cllr Thomas Gould. He topped the poll in the local election last May and pushed hard in the by-election in May, snapping up almost 20% of first preferences and lasting until the tenth count when he was finally dealt the killer blow. He had performed well in 2016, too, taking a good share of O’Brien’s vote at the time.
Cork North-Central has always been Fianna Fáil country, though.
With Padraig O’Sullivan, the party will be confident of retaining one seat but it has gone for a three- candidate strategy and will hope to pick up more.
Cllr Tony Fitzgerald, a former Lord Mayor of Cork, and Sandra Murphy, a well-known communications and events manager, are on the ticket.
But there is a spanner in the works: former Fianna Fáil councillor Kenneth O’Flynn will run as an independent after the party opted not to add him to the ticket.
O’Flynn is well-regarded in parts of the city and could eat into a vote that Fianna Fáil had been banking on.
There is also, of course, the matter of the only survivor of the 2016 poll: Mick Barry.
While Solidarity would have been disappointed to be passed out by Labour and the Greens in the by-election, Barry is a strong personality in the area and his experience and longevity could be crucial in retaining a seat.
Further challenges, though, will come from Labour and the Green Party.
Labour’s John Maher and Oliver Moran of the Greens both polled well in the by-election, which came just six months after both were elected as councillors for the first time.
Maher has the backing of Kathleen Lynch and other Labour stalwarts in the area, while Moran will be banking on the green-wave helping to elevate his status even further.
Both have to be regarded as good outside bets in what is a congested field.
Traditionally, North-Central backs Fianna Fáil and two seats may not be beyond them but there are strong challengers in Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens, as well as a Solidarity candidate keen to keep his seat.