AS the nominations window for local election candidates closes shut this Saturday, the composition of Limerick City and County Council in June 2014 looks impossible to call.
But Fianna Fail’s Niall Collins for one has boldly predicted that his party will rebound strongly to take 16 of the 40 seats up for grabs.
And Sinn Fein’s Cllr Maurice Quinlivan believes he won’t be returning to the council alone next month, backing Seamus Browne to take a seat in the Newcastle West area with all other Sinn Fein candidates “in with a shout”.
Labour may be struggling in the polls nationally but the party’s PRO in Limerick, Dr Gerry Burke, believes the party can do better locally.
Labour is running nobody in Kilmallock to follow up on James Heffernan’s poll-topping breakthrough and where the 2,300 first preference the former Labour senator took in 2009 will go is anybody’s guess.
Stephen Goulding in Rathkeale is the only Labour candidate in County Limerick and Dr Burke said that on a good day, he could be among five or six Labour councillors returned.
“Nationally, it is potentially difficult from what the polls are saying but at local level, it is as much about the candidate as about the party and we think we have a very strong team of six candidates in the city and Stephen Goulding in the county,” said Dr Burke.
“We are not anticipating anything like a wipeout,” he added.
Asked if Labour had a target, he replied: “We would like to have five – the three sitting councillors; a representative from other electoral area in the city (Elena Secas or Derek Mulcahy in Limerick City East) and Stephen. That would be a good performance. We would be anticipating at worst to have three. Maybe on a very bad day, if it went really against the party, we could lose a sitting councillor but that would be the worst case scenario.”
Labour’s worst-case scenario depends on whether left-wing independents like Joe Harrington, running for the Anti-Austerity Alliance, can make the breakthrough and whether Sinn Fein’s prominence nationally in the polls translates into local success.
“I think we could return with a good number of seats,” said Sinn Fein’s Cllr Maurice Quinlivan.
“There are electoral areas that I wouldn’t have even thought we would have contested a year ago. We are now not just contesting them, I think we are in with a shout. I think we are in with a shout in all six areas and I think we will take a European seat as well.”
Pressed on who might do well, Cllr Quinlivan said: “I think Seamus Browne will definitely take a seat in Newcastle West. And I think that Ciara McMahon (Adare-Rathkeale) and Lisa Marie Sheehy (Cappamore-Kilmallock) are fighting for seats and I think they could take them yet, we just don’t know.”
But Dr Burke for one believes Labour are not as “transfer-toxic” as Sinn Fein candidates and will pick up the votes that will transfer into seats if Sinn Fein and Labour candidates are neck and neck on first preferences.
Fianna Fail’s Deputy Niall Collins, meanwhile, is expecting a serious return to form for his party.
“There are five seats less in the new authority. We have nine in the county and one in the old city - so 10 in total. We expect to come back in the region of 15 to 16 seats, which would represent a comprehensive gain in absolute and proportional terms.
“We are targeting a number of gains in the county and also there has been an intense focus from Fianna Fail headquarters on the state of our representation in Limerick City, which has been at an all-time low. So we have offered candidates there to try and reverse that disastrous situation,” said Deputy Collins.
Fine Gael, which at times during this council term has held the majority on both councils, is going into the election in a position of strength.
But Deputy Pat O’Donovan said it would be unfair on candidates to predict how many he expects to be returned.
But rural voters who wanted to see County Limerick’s voice heard on a council that will include 21 urban and 19 rural members should vote Fine Gael, he said.
“From my point of view, it is in the best interests of people to vote for ourselves in the county. It strengthens the case of the county in terms of the delivery of services afterwards. What I am saying is that if Fine Gael are in the majority in the new council afterwards, I would hope that the lion’s share of those seats would come from the county and that there would be a strong emphasis on the county. Yes we need to place a strong emphasis on the city to drive the economy and the region but I still think the best chance to get the county’s point of view heard is with a strong team from Fine Gael in there,” said Deputy O’Donovan.
Joe Harrington, meanwhile, expects the mainstream parties, particularly those backing austerity cuts and new charges to get a rude awakening later this month.
“Even in west Limerick, which is a very settled area, we are finding nobody on the doors who will say upfront they are supporting the main parties,” said Mr Harrington.