NOT all that is new is welcome, particularly when it comes to votes. In West Limerick, the re-drawing of the local electoral boundaries at the upcoming local elections has added uncertainty to the usual ingredients of doubt, geography and party lineage.
While the Newcastle electoral area appears to have escaped the most radical of changes in the recent boundary re-draw, this idea wobbles a bit under closer scrutiny. On paper, the area has gained an extra seat, seven new voting divisions and 3,399 extra voters in Glin, Carrigkerry and other parishes. But could also be about to receive a clear challenge to a decades-old status quo.
At the moment the Newcastle area’s five seats are divided up among Fine Gael (three) and Fianna Fail (two). In both local and national elections, this catchment of rural West Limerick has shown a decided reluctance to steer away from the two main parties, save for John McCoy’s election to the Dail as part of Des O’Malley’s Progressive Democrat tide in 1987.
As such, both of the main parties have made geography their guide in selecting four candidates each for next year’s poll. Fine Gael are faced with the arduous task of returning four incumbent councillors - Jerome Scanlan, Liam Galvin, Damien Riedy and John Sheahan. In 2009 Cllr Scanlan received 2,823 first preference votes - more than any other candidate in the county - and he remains in a strong position heading into 2014. However his colleagues are each facing their own uncertainty: Cllr Riedy will be facing the electorate for the first time, having been co-opted to replace Patrick O’Donovan TD in 2011; Cllr Galvin, from Abbeyfeale, will be fighting for votes in the most densely contested corner of the area; while Cllr Sheahan, a native of Glin, is moving with his home parish into the newly enlarged Newcastle area.
Fianna Fail, buoyed by steady national poll numbers and its traditional strength in rural West Limerick, have nominated former councillor Seamus Ahern of Athea and publican John Leahy of Dromcollogher to stand alongside incumbents Cllr Michael Collins and Cllr Francis Foley. The party is targeting at least one gain next May, with Mr Ahern in a particular position of strength following the enlargement of the area.
Labour’s Stephen Goulding, who has ties to both Newcastle West and Ardagh-Carrigkerry, narrowly missed out on the fifth and final seat in 2009, will be making another attempt. He will be joined by Sinn Fein’s Seamus Browne, who will be hoping to build on the grassroots efforts of his party, which has had an office in Abbeyfeale for a number of years.
Former Mayor of Limerick Joe Harrington, who lives over the border in Lyrecrompane, will be hoping to bring his experience as a socialist city councillor to bear on the Anti-Austerity Alliance ticket, while another anti-austerity campaigner, Christy Kelly of Templeglantine, has also put his name forward.
From a distance, both history and recent form point to an extension of the Fianna Fail-Fine Gael monopoly, with three seats each the most likely outcome. But history, like good records, exist simply to be undone.