Fianna Fail hopes to hold on to seats

 

Local area profile: Co Limerick The Opposition parties and the Progressive Democrats are confident of modest gains in Limerick County Council as Fianna Fáil seeks to contain any loss of seats from an expected swing against the Government.

The major issues in the election to the council, which embraces urban and rural areas, include concern about anti-social behaviour, once-off housing and opposition in the farming community to the controversial nitrates directive.

With Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael dominating the 1999 election for Limerick County Council, both parties polled exceptionally well last time out.

Fianna Fáil came close to a majority on the council in the 1999 election when it secured 14 of the 28 seats.

It won almost 46.04 per cent of first preference votes, against a national average of 38.86 per cent.

While the Independent councillor, Mr John Gallahue, later went on to join the party, giving it an overall majority, Fianna Fáil maintained a power-sharing arrangement with the three PD members of the council.

Senior Fianna Fáil sources in the constituency believe the best the party can hope for is to retain its 15 seats, but the Opposition believes the party's success in the 1999 poll makes it vulnerable due to the Government's loss of popularity.

Among those nominated for Fianna Fáil was Mr Niall Collins, a nephew of Mr Gerard Collins MEP and his brother, Mr Michael Collins TD, who resigned the party whip last year after it emerged he had made a tax settlement.

Fianna Fáil senator Mr Michael Brennan defected to the PDs last April in a row over election candidates.

He had sought unsuccessfully to secure a nomination for his wife, Ms Rose Brennan, in the Bruff electoral area. Ms Brennan is now standing for the PDs.

While the PDs are confident that she will take her husband's seat, Opposition sources believe she will lose some Fianna Fáil support. The PDs also hope that Ms Sinéad Teefy will take an additional seat in Bruff.

Fine Gael won 10 seats last time out, its 32.4 per cent of first preferences being well ahead of its national average of 28.1 per cent.

Party sources believe the party could reasonably expect to win an additional seat in Bruff and Rathkeale. Fine Gael currently holds two seats in each of these Fianna Fáil-dominated electoral areas.

Its candidates include Mr Tom Neville, son of Mr Dan Neville TD, and Mr Richard Butler, a close associate of former Fine Gael leader Mr Michael Noonan.

Labour failed to win any seats last time out but believes that either Ms Karan O'Loughlin or Ms Deirdre Ní Chinnéide can take a seat in Bruff.

However, the absence of a major party presence locally will limit opportunities of other candidates, including Mr Manus Bree, son of Labour's former TD in Sligo, Mr Declan Bree.

The Greens, who currently have no seat, are hoping for a breakthrough in the campaign in the Castleconnell electoral area of Ms Patricia Forde-Brennan, a former chairwoman of the primary division of the National Parents Council.

Ms Forde-Brennan established a strong local profile through her lobbying for the development of the second-level Castletroy College. She was approached to run in the current campaign by Fianna Fáil and the PDs.

Sinn Féin is running three candidates for the council in a constituency in which feelings still run high over the killing by the IRA of Det Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996.

With 0.75 per cent of the local election vote in 1999, only a major surge in support will deliver a seat for the party.

Independent candidates include the anti-war campaigner and lecturer, Mr Denis Riordan.