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Big battle in store in Kildare South as Laois and Offaly voters cross the border

Clockwise from top left: The current confirmed candidates in the Kildare South constituency - Fiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail), Ronan Maher (Green Party), Martin Heydon (Fine Gael), Patricia Ryan (Sinn Fein), Suzanne Doyle (Fianna Fail), Anita Mhic Ghib (Aontu), Fiona McLoughlin-Healy (Independent), Cathal Berry (Independent), Linda Hayden (Social Democrats), Mark Wall (Labour)

This day three weeks we’ll almost certainly be near the end of the General Election count – and from a Laois point of view we’ll have two places to be keeping an eye on.

The re-formed Laois-Offaly constituency will be fascinating with six TDs, a senator and four county councillors in the field.

But Kildare South is also very relevant to Laois as it’s no longer just a neighbouring constituency but it now actually takes in a large chunk of the O’Moore County.

Over 10,000 votes from Portarlington, Killenard and Ballybrittas and the surrounding townslands have all been moved into Kildare South.

So have about 3,000 from Offaly, including Gracefield.

The new boundaries have led to some obvious confusion – particularly around Ballybrittas which is right on the new border. But as one local political source explains, the most straight forward way of clarifying it is that anyone who votes in Killenard will be now in Kildare South. Anyone voting in Rath are in Laois-Offaly.

As of now, there is no out-and-out Laois or Offaly candidate. Nominations close this Wednesday, January 22.

Why the change?

The decision came from the Independent Constituency Commission in 2017 who recommended changes to various constituencies around the country based on population.

For the last election Laois and Offaly together were deemed too big to be a five-seater, as it had been since the foundation of the state.

The two counties, however, were too small to be three-seaters on their own – so Offaly took a chunk of Tipperary North and Laois took a bit of Kildare South including Monasterevin.

Now it has been changed again with Laois-Offaly back together as a five-seater but needing to send Portarlington – Laois’s second largest town – to Kildare South, which is now a four-seater. Monasterevin is back in Kildare now too.

The decision to move the Laois areas hasn’t gone down well, just as it didn’t go down well in Monasterevin for them to be moved into Laois in 2016.

The electorate will struggle to identify and connect with their new representatives. Charlie Flanagan, Seán Fleming and Brian Stanley have been the Laois TDs – Laois voters in Kildare South have more recently been represented by Martin Heydon (Fine Gael) and Fiona O’Loughlin and Sean O Fearghail (both Fianna Fáil).

Kildare South is now a four-seater but with O Fearghail automatically re-elected as the outgoing Ceann Comhairle, it’s essentially a three-seater.

Apart from the bit of Laois, where in Kildare does it take in?

It’s actually quite a large constituency geographically. Newbridge is the main town but it also takes in Kildare Town, the afore-mentioned Monasterevin and Athy, Rathangan and Kilcullen and Castledermot.

It also stretches right up to Carbury and Clogherinkoe on the Meath border (these areas have been moved from Kildare North) and right across to Ballymore Eustace on the Wicklow border.

Naas and the large population areas of Celbridge, Maynooth and Leixlip are all in Kildare North as are the likes of Prosperous and Clane.

So who’s in the running in Kildare South?

Fiona O’Loughlin and Martin Heydon are in the mix again and will probably do battle as to who will top the poll.

O’Loughlin, originally from Rathangan but with a strong base in Newbridge, was a councillor from 1994 until her election to the Dáil at the first time of asking in 2016. She is Fianna Fáil spok

Heydon, who had been a very active secretary of the vibrant St Laurence’s GAA club, was first elected to Kildare County Council in 2009 and then to the Dáil in 2011. In recent times he has been the party’s Parliamentary chairman. He’ll be looking for his third straight election success on this occasion.

But the third seat is probably where the real battle and interest is going to be.

How the Kildare South constituency voted in the 2016 General Election

Labour’s Mark Wall was beaten to the third seat on the last occasion. From Castlemitchell, his father Jack was a highly-respected TD for the area for 20 years.

The swing against Labour in 2016 certainly didn’t help him, nor did the changing of the boundaries.

Labour have a very strong footprint in Athy town, where Wall and Aoife Breslin took in almost 4,000 votes and over 40% first preferences between them. Wall got almost 2,500 himself, nearly 1,000 above the quota.

How the local electoral area in Athy voted in the 2019 Local Elections

Can that vote hold up across the constituency and carry him over the line?

Among the other candidates are Cllr Suzanne Doyle (Fianna Fáil), Cllr Patricia Ryan (Sinn Féin), Ronan Maher (Green Party), Linda Hayden (Social Democrats), Fiona McLoughlin-Healy (Independent), Cathal Berry (Independent) and Anita Mhic Gib (Aontú).

The Kildare Town-based Suzanne Doyle is a close ally of Sean O Fearghail and Fiona O’Loughlin’s running mate.

She comfortably topped the poll in the Kildare local area with almost 600 votes to spare with the party also taking the second seat.

The result of the 2019 Local Elections in the Kildare electoral area

Cllr Patricia Ryan for Sinn Féin polled almost identically as Mark Wall in the 2016 election and has since been elected in the new local local electoral area that takes in Monasterevin.

She was one of the good news stories for Sinn Féin in that election, even if she ‘only’ took the last seat by a margin of 22 votes.

With roots in the Ballybrittas area (and both she and her family went to school in Rath NS), she’ll be hoping to pull in some of the Laois votes, especially that Port’ has a strong Sinn Féin councillor in Aidan Mullins.

The result of the Newbridge area in the 2019 Local Elections

Fiona McLoughlin-Healy is running as an independent candidate this time having got 3,250 votes for Fine Gael in 2016.

Also Newbridge based, she topped the poll there in the Local Elections with over 2,300 votes, almost 900 more than the quota and more double that of the second-placed.

Cathal Berry has been one of the more recent candidates to enter the mix.

He’s running as an independent but as a former Army Ranger and doctor, he will be expected to do well in the large army community having campaigned against the Government who he has said is responsible for the current recruitment and retention crisis in the Defence Forces.

Ronan Maher from Newbridge is flying the flag for the Green Party. A young candidate he is an IT specialist in the energy sector and commutes to Dublin daily on the train to work.

The Social Democrats, who have a TD in Kildare North in Catherine Murphy (the party’s joint leader) and won four seats in the county in the Local Elections, are represented by Linda Hayden, who is also based in Newbridge.

She runs Action Against Sexual Violence Ireland in her spare time and works as a regional manager for a cosmetics company. She’s also a stand-up comedian.

Also entering the race in recent days is Anita Mhic Ghib, from Kilcullen who will be representing Aontú, the party set up by former Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín. She is a primary school principal in Naas and her husband Maurice is from Portarlington.

SEE ALSO – LISTEN: We are joined by John Whelan to look at the Laois-Offaly constituency in our Talking Politics podcast

SEE ALSO – Expained: LaoisToday piece from 2017 giving the detailed background to change the constituency borders

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Steven Miller is owner and managing editor of LaoisToday.ie. From Laois, Steven studied Journalism in DCU and has 14 years experience in the media, almost 10 of those in an editorial role. Husband of Emily, father of William and Lillian, he's happiest when he's telling stories or kicking a point.