Out with the old and in with the new. The people have spoken and their message is in keeping with changing times for the structure of local government in Limerick: there are new voices, young blood, a completely different dynamic. To cap it off, the prospect of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael sweeping away the last vestiges of Civil War politics and joining forces on the all-new council looms closer. Different days indeed.
The dramatic rise of Sinn Fein, with six of the the 40 seats secured and one left behind them for want of a second candidate in City North, was the most obvious headline story as their triumphant candidates were being chaired in the air. While it was clear for quite some time that the city-based Maurice Quinlivan would have some company on the new joint authority, even he could scarcely have imagined that he would be leading a Sinn Fein team of half a dozen, after a 100% strike rate.
And yet, when the dust had settled another compelling local narrative had emerged: the recovery of Fianna Fail. Almost obliterated in the city last time, not least because a spluttering local party machine, FF has completed a strong comeback by taking 13 seats, one more than Fine Gael, on the back of some striking first-preference percentages and notable new names. Fianna Fail must also, however, reflect on the misjudgement that saw polltopping Independent candidate Emmett O’Brien denied a place on the party’s ticket in Adare-Rathkeale.
Amid the shifting political landscape, he was among those who put themselves on the radar for a future Dail run, although the party he has left suddenly has other interesting new possibilities when it comes to the next ticket for Leinster House.
Fine Gael’s vote held up relatively well locally, in large part because of personality politics, a reflection of the work done on the ground by sitting councillors, although there was bitter disappointment for others who lost seats.
Being judged by the people can be a stomach-churning experience and only a heart of stone would not have felt for the beaten candidates whose disappointment at the UL Arena was painfully clear.
Labour, battered half to death nationally, performed a minor miracle in retaining three seats in Limerick. The election of Elena Secas, originally from Moldova but a long-time resident of Castletroy and an impressive candidate, was a truly historic event. It went some way towards giving multicultural Limerick a council that is more representative of our changed society.
If further evidence of the people’s desire for change were needed, it came in spades via the election of three candidates from the Anti Austerity Alliance, whose success owed much to a vigorous stand against water charges. They will of course regard that issue – and others arising from austerity programme – as the basis of their mandate. But the five years for which they have been elected will bring different challenges which will require all members of the new council to acknowledge the art of compromise, in the best interests of Limerick generally.
The era of two councils competing for rates is just a memory now. The transformation of Limerick’s fortunes, though, is a long-term project and the first meeting of the new City and County Council on June 6 will mark an exciting new stage in the process.
The voters have given us a council with a fascinating blend of experience and youth. They will bring different priorities and competing agendas to the chamber, as is the case in any representative political body. Once the deals are done and the plumb jobs divvied up, some of the new members will find themselves on the margins and in any case the powers of the councillors generally are rather limited. But there remains the opportunity all all of those elected to be remembered as part of a council that made a positive difference.
Despite the cynicism that many still have for elected representatives, we hold to the belief that the vast majority are motivated by a desire to do good for their communities. Is it too idealistic or too much to expect that they will see the bigger picture for Limerick – and allow us to punch our weight once again as Ireland’s third city? We can but hope. In the meantime, we wish all of our elected councillors well.