TOUGH FIGHT AHEAD IN WEXFORD AS ELECTION CONTENDERS SQUARE UP
WITH Labour's Brendan Howlin and Independent Mick Wallace likely to hoover up a lot of the first preference votes in the February 26 General Election, there will be an equally fierce contest for the other three seats.
Not that the first two are shoe-ins, and given the over-large field of candidates, there's always a wild card which may upset the status quo.
However, while Labour has lost a lot of its support over the past five years and is perceived in some quarters as a party which sold out on its core values to underpin the coalition's austerity policies, Brendan Howlin's credentials as the man who has best represented County Wexford's interests over the past five years is not in doubt.
Even his critics concede that he has been forceful as a minister and has played a key role in securing major investment and infrastructure in the county, not least the Enniscorthy- and New Ross bypasses.
The problem for Brendan is that despite his national profile as a go-getter, his power-base is still centred in Wexford town, and with Fianna Fail putting in something of a resurgence, he has some way to go.
Mick Wallace has been equally as dynamic, however, he has preferred to stride the national arena as a thorn in the side of authority, the ruling coalition, the gardai and NAMA, which is anathema to him. In the past we had a Teflon Taoiseach, these days we have the maverick Mr Wallace to whom no reprobation appears to stick.
Despite being briefly jailed for not paying a fine for breaching security at Shannon Airport to protest about the presence of U.S. military aircraft there, and tax and financial issues - the latest a €2 million judgement against him over a loan given by Ulster Bank to a company of his, his star is somehow undiminished in the county.
'He's like Marmite, you either love him or you hate him,' was one man's view in Wexford town.
Mr Wallace is unlikely to poll the stunning 13,000-plus first preferences he took in the 2011 elections, but there's little doubt that he will still put in a significant performance.
One real hard worker for the county, Fine Gael's Paul Kehoe, is also considered a front runner, but with Michael D'Arcy Jnr, in Gorey, and Julie Hogan, in Wexford town, also looking for FG first preferences, he may have a tough contest on his hands from within his own party, never mind the other party rivals and Independents jostling for a seat.
And the party's austerity policies, while they may have helped revive an economy laid waste by Fianna Fail during its time in office, have not got down well with many voters, who may punish them at the ballot box, while rewarding FF, which was held at arms' distance by the electorate five years ago.
Fianna Fail's John Browne, for years the most popular politician in his hometown Enniscorthy, has retired and passed the mantle and possibly his personal vote to his son James Browne, as has another FF stalwart from past governments, Hugh Byrne, whose daughter Aoife has the party- and her father's blessing, however, it's very hard to see two seats for Fianna Fail.
And the formidable Malcolm Byrne, from Gorey, who does have more of a county profile than some of his rivals, will also be fighting hard. So it's possible there will be two FF fallers out of the three.
Of the Independents outside Mick Wallace, Wexford Mayor Ger Carthy, from Lady's Island is probably the strongest of the contenders, but he will have to break out of his home turf to secure enough ballots, however, he may do well on transfers from Fianna Fail voters. He's become a lot more proactive around Wexford town in recent times and it will no doubt stand him in good stead.
Sinn Fein's Johnny Mythen is confident of a seat, and while his party did well in the last local elections, he would need to almost treble the number of ballots won by the popular Anthony Kelly in 2011. Is this achievable? Sinn Fein thinks so, but will Mr Mythen break out from his home turf of Enniscorthy? A would-be voter in Wexford town last week asked me who Sinn Fein's candidate was and this despite Gerry Adam's presence at Mr Mythen's recent launch at Clayton Whites Hotel.
Given the Green Party's showing at the last election, it's hard to see Ann Walsh getting much traction and the same could be said of Independents Emmet Moloney, Caroline Foxe and Paul O'Hanlon, who is standing on an anti-immigration platform.
Social Democrat Leonard Kelly was first out of the blocks in terms of canvassing and has been very active on social media, but will this be enough for him to achieve greatness on February 26?
Deirdre Wadding, from the People Before Profit Alliance, surprised many by winning a seat in the last local elections, but she faces a monumental challenge to muster sufficient votes to become the first woman TD for the Wexford constituency since Avril Doyle.