Limerick councillor's mayoralty in doubt over 'racist' remarks

Hundreds petition Taoiseach to veto Cllr Stephen Keary

Nick Rabbitts

Reporter:

Nick Rabbitts

Limerick councillor's mayoralty in doubt over 'racist' remarks

THE celebration party has been booked, the champagne is on ice – but “racist” remarks by mayor-in-waiting Stephen Keary could yet jeapordise his chances of the top job.

Comments by the Croagh councillor – an engineer by trade – have sparked a petition to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar calling for his removal as mayoral candidate. Hundreds have signed the petition in the last number of days.

It came after he suggested people from Eastern Europe see Ireland as “easy pickings” – and this is why there has been a rise in the numbers on social housing lists.

His Fine Gael party nationally has already said his comments “do not represent” its policy – and there is now a doubt whether he will get the support of enough councillors to get him over the line with the election set for Monday at 3pm.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have a pact agreed to share the top jobs in council this term.

Of the 40 members on council, 23 come from the two big parties to give them control of the authority.

But it’s understood many Fianna Fail and Fine Gael members are uncomfortable backing Cllr Keary for the mayoralty after his remarks. With both parties meeting over the weekend, Fianna Fail could yet insist on an alternative candidate being put forward in return for their support.

And the Leader has learned the opposition groupings are considering putting Labour councillor and Moldovan national Elena Secas forward as an opponent to Cllr Keary following his comments.

If they can unite behind the Castletroy-based member, there could yet be a major surprise at County Hall.

After he initially defended the remarks, Cllr Keary – the father in law of Junior Minister Patrick O’Donovan – apologised if his comments hurt anyone, adding: “A small minority abuse the system and some of my constituents in the Adare/Rathkeale municipal area have relayed their feelings to me on that. That is all I was attempting to say.”

Despite this, a petition to the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launched this Wednesday calling on him to veto Cllr Keary’s nomination had garnered hundreds of signatures.

An open letter from a number of East Europeans based in Limerick and sent to all local councillors has called on them to reject his mayoral bid following the “uninformed and divisive comments.”

Limerick citizens from overseas are expected to be at County Hall on Monday to show their opposition to Cllr Keary’s election.

A number of members of the councillor’s own party have already rejected his comments, with outgoing metropolitan mayor Michael Hourigan saying: “His comments wouldn’t be my comments, and I don’t think they should be associated with Fine Gael. I don’t agree with him at all.”

Cllr Michael Sheahan also spoke out against racism in general at Monday's metropolitan meeting.

A number of other Fine Gael members have said they are “shocked and appalled” at the remarks.

Willie O’Dea said: “These remarks are populist and unhelpful. I find it very uncomfortable we’d be supporting a person who has these views and expresses them publicly.”

Maurice Quinlivan described the comments as “far right”, and said he does not see Cllr Keary as “a credible mayor”.

Despite this, Fine Gael’s leader at County Hall, Cllr John Sheahan insists they will support their man.

“He is very forthright at times in what he says, but his heart is in the right place. He is a guy who says what he means,” the Glin councillor said.

Fianna Fail leader Cllr Michael Collins says as of now, his party will hold up its end of the bargain.

But he added he disagreed with the comments, saying: “We have a large Eastern European community in our district, and I’m proud to represent them.”

Raheen man Derek O’Dwyer, who started the online petition, which as of this Wednesday afternoon had almost 300 signatures, said: “The whole thing [about his mayoralty] just doesn’t sit well with me. You have to remember come March next year, he will not just represent Limerick on the national stage, he will represent Limerick on the international stage. Do I want him to go to New York and speak on my behalf? I don’t, and I do not think he’s fit to.”

Cllr Secas – who criticised Cllr Keary in the immediate wake of his remarks – was not available for comment.

Cllr Keary said this Wednesday he will not be making any further comment.