Political battles loom large in Limerick as countdown to local elections gets underway

Nick Rabbitts

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Nick Rabbitts

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nick@limerickleader.ie

Political battles loom large in Limerick as countdown to local elections get underway

Current Mayor of Limerick, Cllr James Collins, celebrates his election in 2014

THE turkey may have only just left the oven, but Limerick’s political classes are already turning their attentions to May’s local elections.

Already, the vast majority of party tickets have been filled, and with the possibility of a general election most likely headed off for the year, all efforts are turning to the battle for Limerick City and County Council.

Forty seats are up for grabs, with candidates and activists expected to hit the streets in the coming weeks in the hope of securing election for the next term.

In the metropolitan city district, there are 21 seats on offer, split across three seven-seater wards.

The northside is a real wildcard constituency this time around, with its boundaries extended to include Garryowen, large parts of Rhebogue and Mulgrave Street, as well as Corbally and the traditional areas north of the Shannon.

Added into this mix is the retirement of high-profile councillors Michael Hourigan, John Gilligan and Cian Prendiville, as well as the decision of Cllr Vivienne Crowley to take a break.

This, and the extended boundaries, has prompted Sinn Fein into a potentially risky three candidate strategy – with outgoing councillor John Costelloe, Caherdavin activist Sharon Benson and Garryowen’s John Nugent joining the ticket.

The council’s party leader Malachy McCreesh acknowledged the risk, but pointed out Sinn Fein has always polled strongly in working class areas like Garryowen.

“We are relying on the work Sinn Fein has done in the past to lay the foundation for electing people. Seighin would have had a strong vote there when it was in City East, so for that reason, we are fairly hopeful our nominees will be able to pick up a lot of these votes and progress,” he said.​

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail has, as expected, added Cllr Kieran O’Hanlon to the ticket. The Rhebogue man, who switches from City East to contest his sixth local election, will run alongside Christy McInerney of Corbally and Coonagh activist Pat O’Neill.

Fine Gael has yet to show its hand, with a convention in January. Names being mentioned are Brian O’Connor, Thomondgate, Lorraine McSherry, Ashbrook, and Olivia O’Sullivan, Caherdavin.

Corbally is shaping up to be a key battleground, with several candidates from this area expected to run.

Denis McCarthy is to throw his hat into the ring for Fine Gael, Mr McInerney is back for Fianna Fail, while former Labour members Frankie Daly and Kieran Walsh, now of the Social Democrats going up against Conor Sheehan, who is flying the flag for that party.​

Mr Walsh – who controversially quit Labour a decade ago – is making a return to politics, having been co-opted in 2003, re-elected in 2004, before stepping down in 2009.​

He said: “​2019 will be the year of the progressives. I think we will get three in the city and one in the county. I know we’re low in the polling, but if you look at our calibre of candidates, they are good, they are known, and they are honest.”

Labour, it could be argued are pursuing a risky strategy on the northside, with Mr Sheehan being joined by homelessness campaigner Anne Cronin, Ennis Road.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan says her party is equal to the challenge, however.

“I would predict Conor would be ahead of the others in Corbally, and I’d certainly be campaigning hard for him there. Fianna Fail has had their candidate there before and he hasn’t won a huge amount of votes. We have no problem with competition – we’d be confident,” she said.

In City West, which contains the central business district, and stretches to Dooradoyle, Raheen and Mungret, Fine Gael has initially put two candidates forward in the shape of metropolitan mayor Daniel Butler and Elenora Hogan, while a third will be added shortly, likely from the Patrickswell area.

Fianna Fail’s strategy in City West has raised eyebrows, with a four-man ticket comprising Mayor James Collins – who may face election twice in short succession – sitting councillor Sean Lynch, as well as Young Munster legend Francis Brosnahan, and Abul Kalam Azad Talukder, who is the first Muslim to run for election in the city.

Fianna Fail TD Willie O’Dea feels the latter candidate – known as Jack to friends – will draw from a different vote to the other three, however.

“There is a situation where Jack is veering in on his own community. A lot of them have got onto the local election register. I feel he will be focused almost exclusively on that community,” he said.

Labour is once again running Cllr Joe Leddin – who is in his fifth local election – while Sinn Fein will once again field Cllr Malachy McCreesh.

Solidarity is hoping newcomer Seónaidh Ní Shíomóin, Raheen, can make a breakthrough, while their old comrade John Loftus will seek election as an Independent. The Social Democrats are running Elisa O’Donovan, well-known for setting up the Swimmable Limerick movement.

City East, which covers Castletroy, Plassey, Monaleen, Castleconnell, and areas between there and the centre, is being cut from an eight-seater to a seven seater.

Here, Fine Gael has already shown its hand, running sitting councillors Marian Hurley and Michael Sheahan, as well as Michael Murphy of Castleconnell, the first time the party has put forward a candidate from the village for 50 years.

Flying the flag for Fianna Fail are Joe Pond, Jerry O’Dea, and new face Catherine Slattery, of the Old Cork Road.

Employed by Willie O’Dea, she is widely fancied to take a seat, as the Old Cork Road doesn’t have a sitting councillor.

Labour will hope Elena Secas can retain her seat, while the Social Democrats are running Sarah-Jane Hennelly, whose 2016 general election performance will give her great confidence of making a breakthrough.

Castletroy View-based councillor Paul Keller will run for Solidarity, and is the party’s only original candidate from 2014, following the retirement of Cllr Prendiville.

Five years ago, at the height of the opposition to water charges, Solidarity, then known as the Anti-Austerity Alliance, upset the apple cart somewhat, coming from nowhere to take three seats.

Cllr Keller admits he is fearful this might represent only “a moment in time”.

“It would be one of the fears, yes,” he admitted, “The fact it was a once-off anti-austerity tiff if you like. An anti-government vote more so than anything else. Time will tell.”​

While he is hoping to do well himself, he acknowledges the party’s other two candidates – the recently co-opted Mary Cahillane in City North and Ms Ní Shíomóin, don’t have the same profile as himself.

Meanwhile, in the county, two political ‘big beasts’ are stepping down – Cllrs Noel Gleeson, FF, and Bill O’Donnell, FG, both in Cappamore-Kilmallock.

Rural Limerick has always been the preserve of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, save for a few exceptions.

At the last election, for example, Sinn Fein claimed three seats.

But the party may face an uphill battle this time around, with Ciara McMahon, Athea, considering stepping down, and the need to bring a new face into Cappamore-Kilmallock following the controversial resignation of Cllr Lisa-Marie Sheehy earlier this year.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have lined up their tickets in the three municipal areas.

“Our team is ready to go,” exclaimed Fianna Fail council leader Michael Collins.​

In Cappamore/Kilmallock, sitting councillors Mike Donegan and Eddie Ryan, are joined by former member Joe Meagher and Cappamore businessman Martin Ryan.

It’s a case of as you were in Newcastle West, with Cllrs Collins and Francis Foley stepping up, while in Adare/Rathkeale, Cllr Kevin Sheahan is bidding for re-election, alongside Triona O’Dea, Croom, and Bridie Collins, Adare.

Cllr Collins has high hopes for the latter candidate, due to her location.

“​There is a seat to be had in Adare. Previously there was a seat there for Rose Brennan. There should be a seat there for someone to get elected to, be it Fine Gael or Fianna Fail,” he said.

Fine Gael, meanwhile, is being more ambitious in Newcastle West, with Cllrs Liam Galvin, John Sheahan and Jerome Scanlon seeking re-election alongside Tom Ruddle.

Former mayor Stephen Keary, Croagh, is hoping to be returned, as is Adam Teskey, while Leo Walsh is seeking to win back a seat he lost in 2014.

Fine Gael’s convention for Cappamore/Kilmallock takes place in January.

Fine Gael council leader Sheahan is clear about the aims for his party.

“To get back to being the largest party and be involved in the mechanics of the council for the next five years. We are very hopeful we can do that with our strategy of candidates placed in good areas,” he said.

High-profile Independent members Richard O’Donoghue, Brigid Teefy and Emmett O’Brien are set to contest again.

With potentially over 100 candidates chasing 40 seats, one thing’s for certain – plenty of drama is in store between now and May.

And then there is the General Election…