The Leader takes its role as Limerick’s paper of record very seriously, which is why this week’s edition includes plenty of coverage of the mayoral elections – that’s plural, as anyone with even a passing interest in local affairs will know. However, those unfamiliar with the peculiar political landscape which has seen the addition of a second Limerick mayor may be forgiven for being puzzled by our various reports.
On page 6 there’s a story about one incoming mayor, Jerry O’Dea. Alongside that is another piece about his new deputy, Shane Clifford. Just below, we report on the swansong of one outgoing mayor, Michael Sheahan, and include a further article featuring the valedictory comments of the other outgoing mayor, Kevin Sheahan. On the front page, we include a report on another councillor again, Liam Galvin, who is expected to don the mayoral chain on Friday night. Confused? If so, you’re not alone. But at least all bases have been covered by Limerick’s newspaper. As the saying goes, it is what it is.
Cllr Galvin, like Kevin Sheahan before him, will be the official first citizen. The problem is that behind-the-scenes efforts by the council’s executive to impose a solution on this very Limerick problem have not worked so far.
‘One Limerick, one mayor’ is the official mantra, which explains the extremely low-key, pageantry-free nature of Jerry O’Dea’s election as mayor of the Metropolitan District last Friday. Pointedly, the council’s chief executive, Conn Murray, was not in attendance. Other than the councillors themselves, and Jerry O’Dea’s proud family, few were. Liam Galvin’s election is sure to be a grander affair, but all the pomp and ceremony in the world will not hide the reality that, for a second year, Limerick has two politicians who can justifiably lay claim to the title of mayor.
As Michael Sheahan implies in the Leader this week, Mr Murray regards the metropolitan mayoralty as a misnomer, a title that should not really exist. Thus, he seeks to downplay it. That mantra again: one Limerick, one mayor.
But a year after the merger of our two councils, now is a good time to ask questions about what has worked and what has not – or at least, not yet.
Sinn Fein’s Maurice Quinlivan has called for such a review. Cllr Quinlivan’s outright opposition to a single authority – before and after its introduction – suggests he has already prejudged the matter. This newspaper supported the merger of our councils for reasons outlined in detail here. We have not changed our mind, but there must be an acknowledgement that some parts of the merger have worked better than others and the mayoralty is not one of them, despite the notable efforts of the recent incumbents.
Born and reared in the city, Jerry O’Dea will now attend many functions wearing a mayoral chain. Would it come as a surprise if his fellow citizens in the city regarded the Mulgrave Street publican as a more appropriate mayor than Cllr Galvin, a beef farmer in Ballaugh, Abbeyfeale, 39 miles from the city. In a word, no. That is no disrespect to Liam Galvin: it merely reflects the uncomfortable fact that the concept of ‘one Limerick’ is easier to utter as a soundbite than it is to make work in practice. That should come as no surprise, because nobody said it was going to be easy.