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What way will former Harty voters go?

THE absence of Dr Michael Harty from the race poses an interesting question for those trying to read the tea leaves ahead of Clare going to the polls.

In 2016, Dr Harty took 8,629 first preferences, 15% of the overall vote, a fantastic performance for a first-time candidate after a relatively short campaign, and he won the second seat.

From Kilmihil and standing on the No Doctor No Village platform, it might have been expected that he would take his support from West Clare but people from different parts of the county also got behind him.

For instance, tallies show that he took 230 votes from the boxes at the Ennis Town Council offices, about as urban as Clare gets, and a place where doctors are very accessible to voters.

He took 76 first preferences from boxes at Quin National School, while tallies at Toonagh National School show he took 95 first preferences, more than any other candidate. Just up the road in Corofin National School it was a similar story, as he took 331 first preferences.

In West Clare, as one would expect, he performed well, taking 184 votes from the boxes at Kilrush National School, for example.

However, to get 15% of the vote, the second most in the county, he had to get a sprinkling from all over and he did so.

So now, four years on, it will be most interesting to see where the people who then voted for Dr Harty go to now.

Clearly things were very different in 2016 and his message about rural decline resonated with a large section of the electorate at a moment when unemployment, although lower than it had been a few years earlier, was still over 8%.

The centrist parties may have been hoping that the economic recovery would have aided its candidates but in Clare, there is a very strong feeling that the county has not benefited as much as it should have from the recovery.

It is certainly possible that many of those who voted for Harty in 2016 will not simply return to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael now.

However, Rita McInerney of Fianna Fáil will certainly be hoping that she can make headway from his departure. She has been vocal about the importance of having a West Clare voice in the Dáil and she must feel she can at least take a chunk of the support he was getting in that part of the county.

Michael McNamara was the only Clare TD from beyond the big two from 2011 to 2016. Now standing as an independent, he will be trying to make sure that as many of those who went for Harty in 2016 see him as the best fit for them now.

Róisín Garvey is another who will see opportunity in the absence of Harty from the race and feel her chances of winning a first Green Party seat in Clare are improved.

At this stage, it is really hard to predict what impact the departure of Dr Harty will have from the race but it is certain that if a candidate from beyond Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is to be returned by Clare, for what would be the third election in-a-row, winning over people who voted Harty in 2016 will be crucial.

Owen Ryan

About Owen Ryan

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Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.
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