The political storm that has convulsed the Green Party over the decision by its chairwoman Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr Hazel Chu to run for a Seanad byelection has put a rarely seen focus on this niche poll.
The controversy over her solo run as an Independent, while remaining on as Green party chairwoman, has turned party division into schism but enhanced her already high profile, making the Pembroke councillor the best-known by far of all seven candidates in the contest.
So who are the other six contestants for two byelection seats, one each on the Industrial and Commercial panel and the Agricultural panel?
The panels are among five that operate in the Seanad and reflect different areas of Irish society and economic life. To contest the election the candidates must have relevant qualifications or experience for the panel they are running for.
The electorate of 218 TDs and Senators will decide the winners in the postal vote. Ballot papers will be issued on April 7th and the polls will close at 11am on April 21st.
If Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael stick to a pact to back each other’s candidates, and if there is a full turnout, they will be just two votes short of the quota for each seat which comes with an annual salary of €69,474. It is a secret ballot, however.
Labour is running a candidate on each of the panels with no prospect of victory, but leader Alan Kelly said the party will “vigorously contest elections and stand for as many seats as possible across the country”. And the election will be good for the candidates’ profiles.
Cllr Chu who is not expected to win, is one of four candidates running on the Industrial and Commercial panel. The others are:
Gerry Horkan, Fianna Fáil
One of four former senators seeking re-election, Gerry Horkan is a chartered accountant who trained with Ernst & Young (now EY), becoming its financial controller before moving into consultancy. He was elected to Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council as a Stillorgan-based councillor from 2003 to 2016, when he was elected to the Seanad. He served as Seanad spokesman on finance and vice-chair of the Oireachtas committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. A consistent contributor in the Upper House he regularly stood in as cathaoirleach, but he lost his seat in last year’s Seanad general election. This time around Fianna Fáil selected him as candidate from 12 applicants through a vote of the parliamentary party. He topped the poll and held on to win on the ninth count.
Billy Lawless, Independent
Then taoiseach Enda Kenny nominated Billy Lawless to the Seanad in 2016 as a campaigner for Irish immigrant rights in the United States and he did not contest the 2020 election when his term was up.
The Galway native ran a chain of bar-restaurants in Chicago, now operated by his children, and has been in Ireland full-time since last May. With the backing of a number of Independents, he has said he is “uniquely placed to speak up for the sector, its thousands of businesses and employees and its importance to Ireland as a global brand”. He also has “unfinished business” in securing similar access for Irish emigrants that Australians have to the US E3 working permits scheme which provides visas based on a “a specialty occupation”; and securing the promised referendum to allow Irish citizens abroad vote in presidential elections.
Ciarán Ahern, Labour
From Rathfarnham in Dublin, Ciarán Ahern had his first political electoral outing in last year’s general election when he ran as Labour’s candidate in Dublin South-West. An employment lawyer, he is also legal adviser to Justice for Magdalenes Research and other non-governmental organisations, honorary treasurer of the Employment Law Association of Ireland, active in the Dublin Cycling Campaign and a founding director of Calcutta Connect, a charity supporting education in underprivileged communities in India.
Maria Byrne, Fine Gael
Elected to Limerick City Council in 1999, Maria Byrne served as a councillor until 2016, including a year as lord mayor from 2010-11.
She previously worked in customer service for a publishing company before running a newsagent’s she bought next door to her family’s pub. Elected to the Seanad in 2016 she served as the party’s Seanad spokeswoman on education and skills. But she lost her seat in the 2020 Seanad general election which proved a major embarrassment for the party as no Fine Gael women were elected to the Upper House. All the candidate will say is that “it’s wonderful to be given the opportunity of having a second chance to get back [to the Seanad]”. The Fine Gael byelection selection process involved the dozen eligible contenders writing a business-style plan of their agenda and ambitions if elected and a series of questions which were adjudicated on by a committee of the party’s national executive.
Ian Marshall, Independent
A 2018 Seanad byelection winner, Ian Marshall, a unionist and former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union has Sinn Féin support as well as that of a number of Independent Senators. The business development manager at the Institution for Global Food Security in Queen’s University failed in his 2020 re-election bid. If there is a breakdown in Government parties’ discipline Marshall could be a beneficiary. Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic has, he said, meant that “building bridges, working across all communities, opening doors and opening minds, north, south, east and west, has never been more important to deal with issues on an ongoing basis”.
Angela Feeney, Labour
Angela Feeney is a Maynooth, Co Kildare councillor. From a farming background, she is head of the school of languages, law and social science at Technological University Dublin and has responsibility for culinary arts programmes, including improving practices in the agri-food area by promoting “farm to fork” and a more sustainable “green cuisine”. She also developed a new masters in applied culinary nutrition, and a new BA in botanical cuisine.