A South Leitrim perspective on the Roscommon-South Leitrim Bye-Election

On 10 October, those of us who are ‘lucky’ enough to hail from Roscommon or the South of Leitrim (assuming that they are over 18 and registered) will get the chance to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming bye-election to fill the empty Dáil seat left by Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan after he waltzed off to Europe last May.

The collapse of the Fine Gael vote in last May’s election coincides with the re-emergence of Fianna Fáil, who won roughly a third of all votes cast across the constituency, well over twice the vote garnered during their meltdown in the 2011 General Election.

In Roscommon, the downgrading of the local Hospital, and the anger generated by many in the county facing the prospect of having to pay water bills for undrinkable water, made the local election last May an especially bruising experience for Fine Gael.

As a result, Fianna Fáil’s Ivan Connaughton is the hot favourite to win the bye-election for the party, despite Fine Gael’s nomination of a relatively young Occupational Therapist by the name of Maura Hopkins.

That, you can read in any of the National papers. However, as a Ballinamore native from the northern part of the South Leitrim area, one notices that people in the media often seem to see the ‘South Leitrim’ bit of the constituency as an afterthought, an irrelevance.

South Leitrim, after all, makes up only a quarter of the constituency’s population, and come the next General election, will part ways with Roscommon to join another Constituency.

The two supposed ‘Key-Stone’ issues of this bye-election – the Roscommon Hospital and Water quality – have almost no relevance in these parts. Sligo and/or Cavan are the main hospitals for people in most of South Leitrim, and thanks in part to successful community water schemes, water quality is no issue here. So what does this ‘Roscommon’ bye-election mean for the people in the Ballinamore area?

For a start, few of the locals in this area really know many of the Candidates that well at all, despite the letterboxes being stuffed with leaflets. Out of the eight candidates who have declared their candidacies so far, only one hails from South Leitrim – Martin Kenny, a local Sinn Fein councillor in the Ballinamore area (Independent Councillor Des Guckian from the Carrick-On-Shannon area has expressed an interest in running, but at the time of writing, was not an official candidate).

However, that says more about Sinn Féin’s relative weakness in Roscommon as opposed to anything else – While Sinn Fein won over 20% of the vote in South Leitrim in May’s elections, they got less than half of that support in Roscommon, and three out of the four Sinn Fein councillors in the constituency are based in South Leitrim.

The elephant in the room is the lack of an Independent candidate who could creditably fill in ‘Ming’s’ shoes. Of course, this was always going to be a big ask of nearly any independent, but the expectation of an Independent candidate who would garner the backing of both the charismatic Ming and the vocal Roscommon Hospital action group in order to pose a challenge to Fianna Fáil has failed to materialise.

The Roscommon Hospital Action Committee has nominated it’s Chairman, John McDermott, while Turfcutter Michael Fitzmaurice, a Councillor based in a part of East Galway due to be merged with Roscommon for the next general election, is offical heir apparent to the ‘Ming’ dynasty.

Veteran Independent (and ex-Fianna Fáil) Councillor Tom Crosby and a young Strokestown-based entrepreneur Emmett Corcoran also make it onto the ballot paper. However, the odds are that none of these Independents have a hope of taking over the “angry anti-establishmentarian Independent TD” role from Ming, come October.

Few in Ballinamore or anywhere else in South Leitrim will be getting too invested in this bye-election – come late 2015/early 2016, no-one in South Leitrim here has to care about the Rossie’s obsessions about their Hospital or their water, but instead will be reunited with the rest of the glorious county in the new Sligo-Leitrim constituency.

Fine Gael and the hapless Labour candidate, Senator John Kelly, would be looking forward to forgetting about the whole bye-election as soon as possible. Sinn Fein hopes to consolidate it’s small but growing electoral base in Roscommon and it’s substantial one in South Leitrim, while Fianna Fail hopes to be able to say afterwards “we haven’t gone away yet, you know…”​​

By Tomás M. Creamer

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