AS Limerick head to the polls for this most unpredictable of local and European elections, nerves are beginning to fray with candidates accusing one another of sabotage and dirty tricks.
Thirty Cllr Kevin Sheahan posters are on the missing list after disappearing from poles along the N69; Sinn Fein’s Lisa Marie Sheehy is on the lookout for placards taken down in Murroe; and on the northside of the city Cllr Gerry McLoughlin has strenuously denied claims he was seen personally removing rival candidates’ posters and replacing them with his own.
“I’m a sportsman. I play the game fair, I play the game hard. I have never been sent off in my life. It is the first time my integrity has been questioned and it is hurtful,” said the former Irish rugby international.
And while candidates are getting hot under the collar as election day approaches, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan believes the polls of recent days show the electorate is also nervous.
“There’s been an awful lot of polls over the last 10 days or so and a lot of them are showing different results. So it’s either that the samples are small and it’s bouncing about a bit or that the electorate are still quite volatile and are still changing their minds even into the very last week of the campaign,” said the minister.
With Sinn Fein rating in the high teens in polls for 12 months now, Minister Noonan said nobody should be surprised that the party was now a serious contender.
“But I don’t know what will happen on the day because these are elections where we haven’t seen these kind of trends before,” he said.
It was possible, he added, that “what is being polled as support won’t actually turn up and poll on the day but it is certainly going to be a very interesting election and it will be a small industry analysing the results over the next few months”.
“I have been very involved in the national campaigns across the country so I have done very little canvassing unfortunately either in the city or the county,” the minister said when asked of Fine Gael’s prospects in Limerick.
“With the integrated councils, the total of 45 seats has gone back to 40. There are going to be five seats less anyway so there will be some losses. One will be looking at percentages rather than overall numbers. But in talking to our candidates, they seem to be very well-received; there’s very little hostility on the doors and the general view from our candidates is that any councillor who has been working over the last five years is appreciated in their community and looks as if they are going to be re-elected. It might be more difficult for new candidates however.”
And if there is to be a surprise in the local elections in Limerick, it may not be how well Sinn Fein or independents do but could be a question of Labour confounding the pundits and performing better than expected.
“I think the Labour candidates are doing fine in the local elections and I don’t see them having a big problem locally ... I think Labour could surprise us on Friday and do quite well,” said Minister Noonan.
With the polls showing Independents likely to get almost 30% of the vote nationally, the two independent candidates in the Adare-Rathkeale area are making confident noises ahead of Friday’s election, meanwhile.
Sitting councillor Patrick C Fitzgerald and newcomer Emmett O’Brien both say they have been getting good reaction on the doorsteps and are hopeful that this will translate into votes.“People don’t want to vote for the two main political parties,” claimed Mr O’Brien. “The impression is that the political culture has remained the same, notwithstanding the change in government.”
There are thousands of votes up for grabs in the east of the county as Cllrs Mary Harty, Mary Jackman and Eddie Wade are retiring, while Cllr Michael Sheahan is running in City East. This leaves just three - Cllrs John Egan, Noel Gleeson and Brigid Teefy - standing from the old Castleconnell area in the seven-seat Cappamore-Kilmallock electoral area.
Ten go to post here, with four Fine Gael, three Fianna Fail, one Sinn Fein and two Independent candidates in the running for seven seats. Between Kilmallock and the old Castleconnell area, there are seven sitting councillors slugging it out. The three trying to muscle their way in are Fine Gael’s Gerald Mitchell, Sinn Fein’s Lisa Marie Sheehy and Joe Meagher, Independent.
All three could spring a surprise. Mr Mitchell narrowly missed out on the sixth seat in 2009, Mr Meagher, as one of four Fianna Fail candidates the last time, received 881 votes while Sinn Fein are on the up nationally.Polling stations around Limerick are the same as for the last general election - except for St Ita’s Newcastle West, St Camillus’ Hospital in the city and the Brothers of Charity Bawnmore. Residents of these institution are being accommodated through postal votes and other means.
The counting begins at the UL Arena on Saturday afternoon and readers can keep up to date with all the drama as it progresses at www.limerickleader.ie.