FORMER mayor Cllr Maria Byrne is “being groomed by Fine Gael” as a successor to Michael Noonan in the Dail, according to a party colleague.
With Dooradoyle-based Cllr Richard Butler’s candidacy in next year’s local elections in doubt, Cllr Jim Long says he expects “the Noonan machine to roll in behind Maria Byrne” to get her elected on to Limerick’s new-look local authority.
And this could pave the way for a shot at the Dail for Maria Byrne in 2016 should the Minister for Finance –who recently turned 70 – decide to call it a day.
But Cllr Byrne said the hypothesis was “news to me” and insisted she was not looking beyond the local elections.
Both Cllr Long and Cllr Byrne are likely to stand in the sprawling Limerick City West electoral area, a seven-seater stretching from Patrickswell to the city centre and taking in the large population base of Mungret/Raheen/Dooradoyle.
Cllr Butler is a long-serving representative of the western suburbs but is currently battling throat cancer. Party sources said Cllr Butler would be allowed all the time he needed with treatment before a decision was made. Should he decide not to run, Cllr Long expects Cllr Byrne to be the main beneficiary.
“Most of us anticipate that the Noonan machine will roll in behind Maria and put their full weight behind her. It’s no secret that Maria is being groomed for Michael Noonan’s seat when he decides to go,” said Cllr Long.
“That’s news to me,” replied Cllr Byrne.
“All I can say is that the local elections are next year and that is all I am concentrating on,” she added.
Both Cllr Long and Cllr Byrne wished Cllr Butler well in his recovery and said he should be allowed space to make his own decision. On the question of his retirement, Minister Noonan told the Leader last month that he would make a decision closer to the general election “but at the moment I am in no mood for retiring”.
“I often remember Charlie Haughey talking about those old Chinese leaders who would go on to govern well into their 90s deserving our admiration. I’m not saying I’ll be around that long and it’s a decision I will have to make closer to election time,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cllr Long said the greatly enlarged electoral area holds no fears for him despite losing parts of Ballinacurra Weston, where he was born, to Limerick City East.
“I have every intention of canvassing hard in the new area. Dooradoyle, Raheen, Mungret and Ballycummin are certainly not areas I would be afraid of and I think I would have a good chance if I get back some of my 2004 vote in the old ward four,” said Cllr Long.
He had lost of some of this vote in 2009 over what he regarded as a smear campaign just prior to the local elections connected to his support for local residents in opposing a planning application.
“There was a lot of misrepresentation and innuendo around that cost me votes the last time,” Cllr Long said.
Cllr Byrne said that while she was losing voters in the Carey’s Road/Hyde Road, in the Mulgrave Street/Rossa Avenue and other areas, she would continue to represent them if re-elected.
She was “looking forward to the challenge” of contesting the local elections in the enlarged area should she come through a selection convention that could take place in September.