Last two seats wide open in Cavan-Monaghan
As polling day looms, four of the Celt's news team make their predictions for seats in the Cavan Monaghan constituency...
Time ripe for Sinn Féin to take two
The reunited Cavan Monaghan constituency (with a small bit of Meath) means there's an extra seat up for grabs and, with the retirement of Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, there will be at least two new faces in Dáil Eireann in a couple of weeks.
While national polls suggest a bit of a kicking for Fine Gael, a major boost for Sinn Féin and a lift for Fianna Fáil and the Greens; Cavan and Monaghan is a much more rural, and traditional constituency. Liam van der Spek (Lab) and Tate Donnelly (GP) are impressive young candidates; and Emmett Smith (SPBP) has been on the political scene for a while but the chances of them making it over the line are slim at best.
The quota is likely to be around the 12,000 mark (depending on turnout) and it will be interesting to see how a Saturday vote will affect that. Outgoing Minister Heather Humphreys will top the poll to be elected on the first count but her surplus will not be sufficient to get her two Cavan running mates over the line who will have Everest to climb to take a second seat for the party.
With Ó Caoláin's blessing and his European profile, Matt Carthy will take the second seat for Sinn Féin.
The third seat is more challenging to predict - but I think Brendan Smith will take it given that his west Cavan voting base has come back into play.
Niamh Smyth will likely take the fourth, having maintained a high profile since she was elected in 2016. As candidates are eliminated in the east Cavan area, the geographical transfers will benefit her.
You would need a crystal ball to know where the fifth seat will go. But getting my Mystic Meg on... my gut tells me that the time is ripe for Sinn Fein to take two. Former councillor Pauline Tully has a high profile, is well got and the party's supporters will be out in force following the whipping they got in the local elections. Fianna Fáil's Robbie Gallagher will be in the mix too and possibly T.P. O'Reilly for Fine Gael and it's difficult to completely write off Aontu's Sarah O'Reilly who could be a big surprise in 2020.
Prediction: 1FG, 2FF, 2SF - Humphreys (FG), Carthy (SF), Smith (FF), Smyth (FF), Pauline Tully (SF).
Future is just not doomy enough
Being a prominent face of an unpopular government, Heather may not hit the 12,400 heights of 2016, but she'll likely top the least disliked poll regardless. If she has a surplus, due to polling card proximity, it'll dribble down to Sandra. Paradoxically the newcomer may feel FG's pains more accutely than a senior cabinet member.
With west Cavan back in the constituency, Matt will inherit Caoimhghín's tri-coloured throne in the early counts.
A rising FF tide will lift all Soldiers of Destiny, so the incumbant Smi/yths are fine, while Robbie in his Farney fiefdom, will be a contender for the fifth but'll still come up short.
Buoyed by humanity's impending doom, the impressive Tate of the Greens may get a scorching 4,000 - and if he stays in the race long enough, plenty of recycled votes will come his way. However the future just doesn't feel doomy enough yet, and we're easy-going folk who'll simply shrug at mass extinction and vote for Neighbour's Cousin #1, The Divil You Know #2, and Tha Wan Who Came To Granny's Wake #3.
So from extinction to endangered species: Joseph Duffy will be out before I can finish writing this sen... ; next out will be Emmett of PBP, then Liam (for whom a Labour council seat could begin look possible). Likeable Sarah of Aontú will outlast Sandra but will still be a mid-count exiteer. Pauline will Dyson up much of the early 'Left'-overs, but because SF seldom match their pre-election polling, TP will sneak the fifth.
Prediction: 2 FG, 2 FF, 1 SF - Humphreys (FG), Carthy (SF), Smith (FF), Smyth (FF), TP O'Reilly (FG).
Dead-certs, tight-ropes, and high-hopes
Cavan-Monaghan can bamboozle the most adept political analyst, a weathervane constituency where things can get totally blown off course.
It's a long-held A. assumption B. assertion, and C. acceptance that Monaghan votes remain in Monaghan.
Cavan is more scattergun in approach, though party loyalty in rural ballots is always significant.
So despite the seeming mood for change, major upheaval is not expected.
The fifth seat still provides plenty of scope for a decent upset somewhere along the line.
Dead-certs? Fine Gael's Heather Humphreys, living large on the late Seymour Crawford's legacy, has steeled her armour across various ministerial portfolios.
Next is Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy, retired Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin's heir-apparent.
The question here is whether Carthy holds the same level of vote-getting magnetism? The optics on this two-candidate strategy with Pauline Tully in Cavan are sound. But getting the balance right has proven to be a tight-rope act with a steep-fall below. The converse could even happen.
The beneficiary? Fianna Fáil. Looking at 2011, the last time there was five-seats, when Kathryn Reilly (SF) narrowly lost out, Fine Gael took three despite no candidate hitting the quota. This is the narrow hope Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth and Robbie Gallagher will be clinging on to.
Flies in the ointment. Local election poll-topping Aontú's Sarah O'Reilly and where her transfers will go, Fine Gael's TP O'Reilly with assistance from running-mate Sandra McIntyre, while a plethora of left candidates eat into valuable first preferences without really challenging.
Prediction: 1 FG 1 SF 3FF - Humphreys (FG), Carthy (SF), Smyth (FF), Smith (FF), Gallagher (FF).
There have never been three Cavan-based TDs
Cavan-Monaghan must surely be one of the most intriguing constituencies in the country. As I see it, there are guaranteed seats there for FG, FF and SF and there will be a fierce battle for the remaining two seats, with all three capable of and targeting gains.
The recent Red C poll was interesting in that it highlighted that almost 80pc of those who say they will switch to Sinn Féin are doing so because they want a change from the Fine Gael government and their 'confidence and supply' partners, Fianna Fáil.
That suggests that the two traditional heavyweights may not pick up all that many transfers from Sinn Féin, with Aontú's Sarah O'Reilly a possible benificiary there. Could she be a potential bolter? It's unlikely but not impossible.
Matt Carthy, Heather Humphreys and Brendan Smith should certainly come back in with the minimum of fuss. Carthy may not poll as well as his predecessor Ó Caoláin, who had a strong personal vote, but he is a good performer and the general rising Sinn Féin tide means there is absolutely no chance of him missing out.
Minister Humphreys topped the poll last time and, while Fine Gael – who saw three TDs elected here as recently as 2011 – are struggling in the polls, she is safe as houses.
Ditto Brendan Smith, who has his native west Cavan back on board this time and, regardless, made it into the then four-seater without that base to call on last time. He is a cert.
That, though, is where things get interesting. But for poor vote management, SF would have gotten two in back in 2011 and they will be desperate to get that right this time.
Pauline Tully has a high profile and with her party surging nationally, she will, I believe, take that fourth seat.
Incumbent Niamh Smyth will then be in a battle with Monaghan-based Robbie Gallagher, from her own party, and Cavanman TP O'Reilly (FG) for the fifth. The personable Bailieborough woman defied the odds the last time (she was available at 25/1 days before the election), when she was bouyed by a massive east Cavan vote and a very significant south Monaghan support, too.
Sarah O'Reilly, who did extraordinarily well in the Locals with 1700 first preference votes, could take some of Smyth's votes here and Gallagher will fancy eating into the south Monaghan area.
The Donegal native was doing the rounds this week with former Cavan boss and his own county man Martin McHugh and was photographed with Monaghan GAA superstars Conor McManus, Rory Beggan and Darren Hughes. He is expected to poll very well.
Virginia man TP O'Reilly has had a strong ground game and has a very strong mandate also from the Locals. He will be hoping Humphreys' surplus helps him over the line.
Smyth, though, is the sitting TD and has been highly active during her time in the Dáil. She is the sitting TD and is favoured by the bookmakers for the fifth seat.
However, Smyth would have to buck a couple of trends were she to get in. Presuming Tully makes it, if Niamh were to take the fifth seat, it would mean three Cavan TDs out of the five which is unheard of.
Monaghan voters tend to support their own candidates; remember, again, 2007, when that county had three TDs in what was a four-seater and 2002 when four Monaghan-based TDs made it.
Voting patterns can change of course but the records to hand for the last 12 elections paint a vivid picture; there have never been three Cavan-based TDs elected in a general election.
Of the remainder, the Greens' Tate Donnelly has impressed on the campaign trail but it would be a monumental upset were he to get in this time in a conservative contituency like ours. My sense is that, rightly or wrongly, rural voters' interest in green issues is vastly over-played in the media.
Prediction: 1FG, 2SF, 2FF – Humphreys (FG), Carthy (SF), Smith (FF), Tully (SF) and Gallagher (FF).
Women leading the charge in Cavan Monaghan
One of the most heartening thing about the Cavan Monaghan constituency is the representation of women on the ballot paper. Of the 13 candidates eight are male, with five females.
It's still shy of the 50/50 gender spread in the population, but it's a move in the right direction.
Nationally there are 516 candidates running for 159 seats in 39 constituencies in the general election. Of them 160 are female, representing 31% of the candidates. In our constituency we his 38.5% female representatives.
The strength of the female candidates on the ballot paper is also worth noting. Joining the sitting TDs, Heather Humphreys (FG) and Niamh Smyth (FF), are Pauline Tully (SF), Sarah O'Reilly (Aontú) and Sandra McIntyre (FG).
There is a strong possibility that one of those candidates could take the fifth seat in this constituency leaving Cavan Monaghan in the unique position have having a majority of female elected representatives.
Cavan Monaghan is a truly intriguing election contest. The addition of the extra seat, the retirement of a politician who held office for over two decades, and the vagaries of elections suggest there will be some sweaty palms come Sunday February 9.
So looking into the crystal ball, and with the exact same scientific basis, the choice of Mystic Tom is: 1. Heather Humprheys (FG), 2. Matt Carthy (SF), 3. Brendan Smith (FF), 4. Niamh Smyth, and 5. Pauline Tully (SF). I am ready to acknowledge that although they appear conservative choices, they could also be very wrong choices.
* We will be providing live updates on our website from the count centre from 9am on Sunday.
Meanwhile, to view profiles on all 13 candidates in the race in this constituency before you cast your vote, check out the link below: