Row over plans to award Freedom of Limerick to President Michael D Higgins

Nick Rabbitts


Nick Rabbitts

President Michael D Higgins
THE bitter recriminations from this year’s mayoral election are continuing, with Fine Gael now withdrawing their support for plans to offer the city’s freedom to Michael D Higgins.

THE bitter recriminations from this year’s mayoral election are continuing, with Fine Gael now withdrawing their support for plans to offer the city’s freedom to Michael D Higgins.

Labour councillors had been secretly working hard since the Limerick native’s election as President in 2011 to give him the highest honour.

Needing the support of two-thirds of members, Cllr Tom Shortt had secured an agreement with Fine Gael that they would back plans to offer President Higgins the honour.

But after Labour tore up an agreement with Fine Gael to back councillor Denis McCarthy’s bid for the mayoralty on Monday night, Cllr Jim Long has confirmed his party will no longer support them.

After Labour instead backed new mayor Kathleen Leddin, Fine Gael’s whip Cllr Long has said “the gloves are off now”.

But Cllr Shortt has accused Cllr Long of “treachery” by going public with the plans, normally kept a closely guarded secret.

It is because of this that President Higgins is now unlikely to be offered the freedom.

Cllr Long confirmed that he informed Cllr Shortt by text to remove his support from the petition to name President Higgins a freeman

He added that other Fine Gael members will follow suit - but it is understood many have held off on signing the agreement to ensure Labour backed their mayoral candidate.

Cllr Long said his decision stems purely from the fact Labour tore up its agreement with Fine Gael to elect Cllr McCarthy as mayor.

Recalling Monday night’s bad tempered, and divisive election, which kicked off at 7pm, a furious Cllr Long said: “The fact is Labour waited until five to seven to pull the plug [on their agreement]. It is time we took the gloves off and leave them have it right between the eyes.”

He added: “This is not the first time Labour has done this. Joe Leddin and company are masters at walking away from things and saying they did it in the best interest of the city.”

Referring to then Labour councillor Gerry McLoughlin’s election as mayor, he added: “Did they do it in the best interests of the city last year when they elected one of theirs?”.

And in reference to the agreement, the southside councillor added: “We can break agreements too: it is part of the joys of life. I know I am breaking protocol here - but I need to say to Labour: you shafted us, now we are going to shaft you.”

Upon hearing Cllr Long’s comments, Cllr Shortt - who acted as President Higgins’ Limerick election agent - was furious, accusing Cllr Long of doing “unestimatable damage to the reputation and image of a city for which he was mayor”.

“It is absolute treachery by Jim Long to have brought this process [into the open]. He has stooped so low it is a disgrace. I had been working hard to have a day of celebration to bring it to the attention of this country that we are proud that the ninth president was born within the city boundary,” he told the Limerick Leader.

He said it is now “virtually impossible” that an agreement will be reached which will see President Higgins offered the highest honour in the next 12 months, saying the process has suffered a “mortal blow”.

“It is such a sad moment that having tried to negotiate this quietly behind the scenes that as a city we could not come together and bury our political differences,” he said.

Other Fine Gael members have pointed to Labour’s behaviour on Monday night, with party leader Cllr Diarmuid Scully also condemning the party for its action.

But Cllr Shortt said Labour’s decision was taken after lots of consultation with members of the public.

“The Labour party decided Limerick would be better served, and the people would be better served, rather than party politics by the Labour party abandoning the agreement with Fine Gael. We have proven to be in touch with the people: it was based on my consultation throughout the community in all walks of lives at different levels,” Cllr Shortt added.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that southside Labour councillor Orla McLoughlin demanded the deputy mayoralty in return for her voting for Cllr Leddin.

Cllr Shortt said the majority of the Fianna Fail/Independent/Sinn Fein/Labour bloc, and Cllr Pat Kennedy who crossed the floor, wanted to draw lots to decide who was to get the €10,000-a-year role.