FIFTY years ago this Saturday, the unmatched charisma of President John F Kennedy lit up Greenpark racecourse and created memories that will never fade. At his side for most of his brief Limerick visit was one of the city’s greatest mayors, Frances Condell. She did Limerick proud that day and her speech was praised by JFK as “the best I have heard since I came to Europe”. Coming from a man who made some unforgettable speeches himself, that was praise indeed. The role of an elected public representative should be a noble calling and councillors such as Frances Condell and her contemporary Ted Russell spent decades doing good things for Limerick and bringing credit to the council in the eyes of the people it served. What we witnessed at City Hall on Monday night produced the exact opposite result.
The mayoral election was a depressing and squalid affair. Some of the contributions heard before the vote that gave the mayoral chain to the long-serving Independent councillor Kathleen Leddin were nothing short of embarrassing. The events leading up to the vote were characterised by a nasty smear campaign conducted against the front-runner, Cllr Denis McCarthy of Fine Gael.
Over at County Hall, Cllr John Sheahan will be elected as the last cathaoirleach to serve before next year’s amalgamation of the councils. Cllr Sheahan can be confident that there will be no last-minute attempt to deprive him of the honour, because that is not the way things are done by county councillors. Once the people decided the make-up of the council, with Fine Gael in the ascendancy, agreement was reached about who would be cathaoirleach for the subsequent five years.
Fine Gael had the numbers in the city as well, but infighting meant that the party could not stay united. A pact with Labour was formed - and then broken this week as the nastiest election in living memory unfolded.
Is it too much to expect that the members of Limerick City Council can conduct themselves with dignity? Is there something in the political DNA of too many of these public representatives that compels them to treat the mayoral election as some kind of blood sport, in which positions of influence carrying financial rewarded can be traded for votes?
It is important that not all councillors are tarred with the same brush and Sinn Fein’s Maurice Quinlivan will have found many people in agreement with him when he condemned the election as “a complete and utter farce”. It must be stated, too, that Kathleen Leddin did not deserve her big night to be dominated by this unedifying sideshow. It is immensely difficult for any Independent candidate to be elected mayor and that she was honoured with the chain is an indication of the respect she commands across the political divide.
The embarrassment has not stopped yet, however. No sooner was the ink dry on the papers confirming Cllr Leddin’s election than Fine Gael’s Jim Long was promising to break the agreement made with the Labour Party that President Michael D Higgins be granted the Freedom of Limerick City, an honour bestowed to JFK half a century ago.
To drag the president of the nation into this tawdry row was yet more evidence that this particular incarnation of Limerick City Council will not be missed in the least, once disbanded next year.
As for our newly elected mayor, we wish her a happy and successful year.