With the party conference season now over, voters should be better placed to judge what the two most talked about alternative governments will do on the health issue. All parties are certainly promising more. What’s not yet clear is whether more of many things will mean better or different.
In terms of overall support, Fianna Fáil and the PDs continue to slip, while the three-party rainbow of Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens is polling much better. Sinn Fein is once again reaping the respectability dividend. What then of the fortunes of the doctors running in this election?
A TD since 1977, Dr Rory O’Hanlon (FF) as Ceann Comhairle is returned automatically to the Dáil. This gives Fianna Fail the opportunity to recapture a third seat in this five-seat constituency. Ironically, the most likely casualty would be independent deputy, Paudge Connolly, who was elected on a hospital ticket in 2002.
Dr Jim McDaid (FF) had indicated some time ago that he was retiring from politics but later changed his mind. Fianna Fail newcomer, Niall Blaney, may be vulnerable to a surge in support for Sinn Fein. Fine Gael got close to a quota in this three-seater in 2002. Should it get a lift nationally come May, it will challenge for the seat it lost then.
If Sinn Fein and Fine Gael both make the breakthrough, that leaves one seat for either Dr McDaid or party colleague Cecilia Keavney from Inishowen. She might just have the numbers to edge past Dr McDaid.
The sole Fine Gael standard bearer in this four-seater is Dr James Reilly, former president of the Irish Medical Organisation. Fine Gael received less than a quota here in 2002 and will find it hard to make up the shortfall.
With a wave of support now apparently coming its way, the Green Party looks assured of at least one seat. There is also at least one ‘left’ seat here, which will go to either Sean Ryan (Labour) or Clare Daly (Socialist Party). Fianna Fail is assured of one seat, given that it had almost two quotas in 2002.
The fourth seat could well be decided on a three-way fight between Dr Reilly, the second Green Party candidate, and either Ryan or Daly.
Dublin South Central
Consultant paediatrician Dr Roisin Healy is an independent candidate who wants the new national children’s hospital built on a greenfield site near the M50. As a newcomer in a pool of more experienced candidates chasing Fine Gael’s Mitchell’s seat, she may struggle.
Dr Leo Varadkar (FG) is a real contender in this three-seater. He polled almost 5,000 votes in Castleknock in the last local elections. The big question is whether he can sustain that early momentum and pip constituency veteran, Joan Burton (Lab), for the last seat.
In this four-seat constituency where Fine Gael holds just one, the decision to run four candidates has raised eyebrows. The party got just over 31 per cent of the first preference vote in 2002, barely unchanged on 1997.
It will be hoping this time that local consultant, Dr John Barton, will help it to recapture the seat held previously by his party colleague, Ulick Burke, who lost out to independent candidate Paddy McHugh five years ago. There is much speculation locally that McHugh is facing the mother of all battles, which may work to the benefit of Fine Gael, but not necessarily Dr Barton.
As FG’s Paul Connaughton holds incumbent’s advantage, and Ulick Burke is the better known and more experienced, Dr Barton may be the casualty.
Dr Jerry Cowley (Ind) pulled off a major coup in 2002 when he polled almost 14 per cent of the first preference votes in Mayo. This time, there is a lot more pressure and uncertainty.
Dr Cowley is now caught in a pincer between a party leader and one of its most efficient vote-getters. If Fine Gael is to have a chance of forming a government, it has to win extra seats in places like Mayo. Should it capture three out of five here, only a meltdown in Fianna Fail coupled with massive transfers to Dr Cowley will save the day.
Dr Jimmy Devins (FF) was first elected in the old constituency of Sligo-Leitrim in 2002. The redrawing of a number of constituencies in this region is unlikey to affect his fortunes in the election, as he hunts in and around Sligo Town, whose population is now 18,500 according to the latest census data.
If Dr Jerry Cowley confounded the pundits in Mayo in 2002, the honours in Wexford went to Dr Liam Twomey, who also campaigned and was elected, as an independent. As Fine Gael’s health spokesman, he enjoys a high profile and has proved himself adept at handling the media. Given that so few people have so little faith in the ability of any party to improve the health services, he may yet find this a hindrance rather than a help.
Jimmy Devins and Liam Twomey to be elected; a good chance for Leo Varadkar; a half-chance for Jim McDaid and James Reilly; but disappointment for John Barton, Roisin Healy and Jerry Cowley.