On the basis of the discourse we’ve listened to over the past fortnight in Waterford, it would appear that the race for Leinster House has produced the best brand of candidates we can recall for many elections.
The first candidates’ debate, which was held at the Theatre Royal on January 28th, was, in our view, a worthwhile exercise, with seven of the then declared nine-strong field fielding a range of questions on the pressing issues facing the country. And we felt those candidates in attendance on the night, on the whole, fared reasonably well.
As the Local Election result revealed in Waterford, voters in the city made a clear move towards the left, with Sinn Féin and independent candidates faring well, while in the mid and west county, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael retained ground that they have held for decades.
And Labour, lest we forget, was reduced to just one local representative at City & County Council level, with the junior coalition member, not for the first time, on the end of a big kicking from voters.
What Newstalk’s Ivan Yates labelled “the battle of Portlaw” between Minister of State Paudie Coffey (FG) and Fianna Fáil’s Mary Butler suggested, in the former TD and bookmaker’s view, that the fourth Waterford seat may come down to a dogfight between the Tannery Town neighbours.
However, in his final analysis, Yates predicted that the four Dáil seats will be taken by incumbents John Deasy, Paudie Coffey and John Halligan (Ind), with Senator David Cullinane (SF) set to dislodge Labour’s Ciara Conway from the lower house. We shall see come February 27th, of course, if the former Agriculture Minister has got it right.
Despite the party politicking which one would expect during election debates, it’s clear that even politicians with contrasting ideologies, such as Minister Coffey and Senator Cullinane, share common ground when it comes to developing this city, county and region.
Deputy Halligan, who has proven a most capable Dáil performer, and one who has rarely opted for the cheap headline at Enda Kenny’s expense during Leaders’ Questions, has repeatedly stated his aversion to landing tabloid-style shots at his fellow Waterford TDs.
It’s not been his style up to now and it’s a stance he is unlikely to alter, which may serve him well with undecided voters or for those considering him as a second or third choice on their ballot.
At present, one suspects that Paudie Coffey (who has grown in stature in accordance to his promotion) represents Waterford’s best chance at landing a senior ministerial post should Fine Gael lead the next government, while John Deasy’s excellent work in the Public Accounts Committee has shown his abilities as a national legislator.
Deputy Conway articulated a range of fine points during the Chamber debate, referring to the unprecedented level of school building we’ve seen since 2011, and, like every other sitting Labour TD, knows she’s in for a tough campaign.
Fianna Fail’s Mary Butler, keen to regain the seat the party feels is a birthright of theirs, is a clear favourite of her leader Mícheál Martin, who was notably by her side in Waterford during the first full day of campaigning.
Grace O’Sullivan (Greens) will seek to build on her fine European Election showing, Mailo Power (Renua) will speak from her experience as a businesswoman while Una Dunphy (PBP) can draw from her knowledge of the education sector to set out her stall. An interesting campaign awaits.