A child struggles with a wind-blown election poster outside his home in Ballyconnell last week.

New candidate to ensure Quinn jobs take centre stage

As the general election campaign enters its second week the outcome in Cavan Monaghan is becoming more intriguing, with 14 candidates now declared including a Quinn Insurance employee whose principal platform is the retention of Quinn jobs in Cavan Monaghan. Caroline Forde, a regional claims manager with Quinn Insurance, is a surprise candidate whose entry into the race on an emotive issue such as job preservation at the Quinn Group could affect the outcome in this constituency. No doubt the main contenders, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, will be evaluating her potential threat over the coming days in order to protect their vote base from any leakage to a candidate whose slogan resonates well with the public. Cavan Monaghan is now an election battle ground where a big national issue such as jobs has a particular focal point. Otherwise the electorate are preoccupied with this week's announcement that mortgages are to increase by 1% on top of the other increases in the recent budget. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was in Cavan town last Wednesday at the start of his national electoral tour to fire up the troops in a quest for three seats in Cavan Monaghan. He was in buoyant mood doing what he does best – engaging with the party faithful and ordinary members of the public. As party supporters crowded around and hugged him in the foyer of the Farnham hotel the Dublin media's lukewarm perception of Enda seemed a distant parallel universe. Other party leaders have yet to hit Cavan although Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin was in Castleblayney last Thursday. This election campaign is being fought out on the television channels as well as on the hustings as party spokespersons go head to head on Prime Time, Pat Kenny's Front Line and Tonight with Vincent Browne. The much hyped leaders' debates have turned into a phoney war with only Labour leader, Eamonn Gilmore and his FF counterpart turning up for the first of these yesterday (Tuesday) on TV3. Mr Kenny, has refused to take part so far, citing campaign commitments after initialling lodging an objection to Vincent Browne hosting any of the debates because of remarks Mr Browne made about him some time ago. Fine Gael's solid showing in the opinion polls well ahead of all the other parties may be the real reason, as senior party strategists know this is an electoral race that only they can lose at this stage, so the message is clear: avoid all political banana skins as they run down the clock to polling day. In Cavan Monaghan there are now five female candidates, which is a positive development for those who have long complained about the gender imbalance in Irish politics. Sitting Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Conlon is joined in this constituency race by Kathryn Reilly, Sinn Féin, Heather Humphreys, Fine Gael, Darcy Lonergan, the Green Party and Caroline Forde, independent. If Cavan Monaghan proves a fruitful area for female candidates it could act as a barometer of change in the country as a whole. Ms Forde is one of four independents standing in Cavan Monaghan this time. Virginia man TJ Fay is running again; Monaghan town and county councillor Seamus Treanor and Ballybay man John McGuirk have already declared. The four independents join Labour and the Green party in the chase for votes that over recent elections have been preserve of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin. A poll in last weekend's Sunday Independent gives Fine Gael a massive 47% of the vote in Cavan Monaghan, placing Senator Joe O'Reilly at 25%. If accurate it would vindicate the party's four candidate strategy. However, Fine Gael are wary of accepting such a poll endorsement at this stage and call for no let up in the campaign. Labour Party candidate Liam Hogan will be happy with his support projection of eight per cent, which is a positive upturn in the party's fortunes in Cavan Monaghan. However, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin discount the particular opinion poll and question its methodology. They claim strong solid support over the two counties for their respective candidates. Opinion polls both at national and constituency level will be a feature of this campaign. The political parties are also undertaking their own private polling to enable them concentrate on their strengths and weaknesses in particular areas. The final outcome will only be known when votes are counted on Saturday, February 26. See the print edition for full election coverage.