Meath profile: falling of electoral axe on councils creates rich bounty

Lure of extra seats has enticed 84 candidates into race

Sat, May 17, 2014, 01:00

Full list of candidates

The electoral axe may have fallen on Meath’s three town councils – Trim, Kells and Navan – but it has resulted in a rich bounty for the county council and a whopping increase of 11 seats from 29 to 40.

Eight of the current crop of councillors are retiring and as one seasoned political analyst observed, “if you’ve done the work on the ground and you’re well known you should be re-elected, whatever your political colour”.

But the lure of extra seats has enticed 84 candidates to enter the fray and along with the 21 remaining incumbents, there are a number of town councillors hoping to advance to county seats as well as a plethora of bright new party candidates and Independents.

One candidate garnering a lot of interest is Sharon Keogan, running in both the newly created Ashbourne ward and in Laytown-Bettystown (formerly Slane). It is something of a family affair for the former Fianna Fáil national executive member, who resigned to run as an Independent in the 2011 general election after she failed to be selected for the party ticket.

Her partner, Seamus O’Neill, was elected as an Independent in 2009 but resigned in 2012, nominating Ms Keogan as his successor. The council however declared her ineligible to take an Independent seat and her son Arian Keogan was co-opted instead. He is not running this time around. The popular analysis is that she will take a seat in the Ashbourne area with a chance of winning in Laytown-Bettystown.

Colourful Independent Dave Keaveney is running as the “Don’t Give a Feck” party. He’s running in the Laytown-Bettystown area and while pundits don’t predict a seat for him, he may be popular with the disillusioned.

Fine Gael and Labour controlled the last council. While they are getting hammered in the polls, the increase in seats in Meath and that “personal vote” could be a saving grace for both. Fine Gael with 18 candidates may hold on to its 11 seats.

It’s an old campaign tactic to ask people to vote local to ensure representation but in the Kells ward it is something of an issue in Athboy. It has no local representative on the council. A seasoned political campaigner said that once property tax funds are released to the local authorities, representation will be an issue when it comes to the divvy-out of resources for projects.

There are three Athboy candidates – Independent David Gilroy, who left Labour a few months ago and is a brother of Labour Senator John Gilroy; Labour candidate Sandy Gallagher and Aideen Andrews of Fine Gael. Fretting local campaigners fear a split in the vote leaving Athboy again without a councillor but the smart money is on Andrews.

In rural wards Trim and Kells, the heavy lime content of water is an issue as is social protection for the self-employed. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael hold all seats in both bar one – Labour’s Tracy McElhinny in Trim – and major change is not expected. Fianna Fáil’s Jimmy Fegan is retiring, but Independents don’t prosper in these parts.

Labour has been getting grief over water charges, the property tax and “not standing up to Fine Gael”. But there is no prediction of a “wipe-out”. The party elected four councillors in 2009 and while Cllr Jenny McHugh defected to Fianna Fáil last year, Labour expects to retain the three with a good chance for Kells mayor and town councillor Brian Collins and Navan town councillor Anton McCabe.