Serious presidential hopefuls ‘likely to get council nominations’

Independent councillors and those disobeying party HQs should ensure range of hopefuls

Presidential hopeful Senator Joan Freeman pitching to members of Kildare County Council for a nomination.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Presidential hopeful Senator Joan Freeman pitching to members of Kildare County Council for a nomination. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Serious and well-regarded prospective candidates for the Presidential election will have little difficulty in securing sufficient nominations from local authorities, according to the elected heads of councils throughout the State.

A representative groups of mayors and chairpersons have told The Irish Times a combination of past precedent, the high numbers of non-aligned councillors, and local representatives disregarding instructions from party headquarters, should ensure that most of the high-profile independent candidates will secure the required four nominations from councils.

Our parliamentary party decided in haste that we were not going to field a party candidate

Mayor of Fingal Anthony Lavin said its council will meet on Monday, September 9th, and will hear from candidates. Asked did he agree that candidates would be successful in following the council route for nomination, the Fine Gael councillor said: “I would be inclined to agree. It will happen. I would say that councils generally will be for allowing candidates to go through. I do not see [this process] not producing candidates.”

Businessman and TV personality Gavin Duffy lobbies Kildare County Council members for a presidential nomination in Naas, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Businessman and TV personality Gavin Duffy lobbies Kildare County Council members for a presidential nomination in Naas, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Eamon Aylward, chairman of Kilkenny County Council, indicated that party whips do not necessarily hold sway at council level. He is a member of Fianna Fáil which is officially backing the incumbent, President Michael D Higgins.

He does not agree with that approach. “Our parliamentary party decided in haste that we were not going to field a party candidate.

‘Democratic right’

“From talking to council colleagues, many are of the view that we should be allowed exercise our democratic right to nominate candidates to contest.”

He said he expects Kilkenny council, which meets this Friday to hear from candidates, will definitely approve the nomination of a candidate.

There is a strong precedent for this but it is comparatively recent. In fact, the first candidate in a presidential election to achieve a nomination using this approach was Dana Rosemary Scallon who won backing from five councils in the 1997 election.

James Smyth pitches Kildare County Council members for a nomination in Naas, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
James Smyth pitches Kildare County Council members for a nomination in Naas, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Such a route had been tried once before, when the independent republican Patrick McCartan was unsuccessful in persuading four councils to back him in 1945. In the event, he managed to get the backing of 20 TDs and Senators, allowing him into the race, which was won by Sean T O’Kelly.

Ms Scallon’s breakthrough encouraged a slew of Independent candidates to use this route. Another independent Derek Nally won the backing of the minimum four councils in 1997. In the next contest election, in 2011, no fewer than four candidates were successful in following the council route.

In fact, some 26 of the then 32 councils nominated one or other Independent candidate. Mary Davis was backed by 13 councils (Galway City; Galway County; Kerry; Limerick; Louth; Mayo; Monaghan; North Tipperary; South Tipperary; Sligo; Waterford; Wexford; and Wicklow), five backed Ms Scallon (Carlow, Roscommon, Offaly, Donegal and Longford); while four councils backed both David Norris (Dublin City, Waterford, Laois and Fingal), and Sean Gallagher (Cork, Clare, Leitrim and Mayo).

Defy whip

The major parties issued instructions in 2011 telling their councillors not to nominate or support Independent candidates. A minority defied the whip but many others abstained. The result was that in some councils the number of abstentions often exceed the number of actual votes cast. In Sligo, for example, Mary Davis won the nomination with the support of eight council votes, while 11 abstained.

Similarly in Galway, only about half the councillors were present for the vote. Fourteen of those present voted in favour of Ms Davis while the other six abstained. In Wexford in 2011, six voted for Davis, five voted for Gallagher and there were eight abstentions.

Presidential hopeful Kevin Sharkey pitches members of Kildare County Council for a nomination for candidacy in Naas, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Presidential hopeful Kevin Sharkey pitches members of Kildare County Council for a nomination for candidacy in Naas, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Some councils have already heard from candidates. Meath County Council, has heard from eight candidates but will not vote until next Monday. Cork County Council has scheduled its meeting to decide on a nomination for Friday, September 7th.

Quality of submissions

Similarly, Mayor of Cork City Mick Finn said its meeting would be held on September 10th. It has asked potential candidates to submit documentation. “The indications are we will hear from six to seven candidates and I would expect that us giving a nomination will depend on the quality of the submissions and presentations.”

Personally I have no problem supporting President Higgins. He has done a good job

Ossian Smyth, Mayor of Dún Laoghaire and Rathdown, said the council may hold a special meeting but pointed to a majority of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour members. He said there would be no point in bringing in candidates if a majority of councillors preferred to see Michael D Higgins run unopposed.

David Maxwell, chair of Monaghan County Council, is a member of Fine Gael and said the issue was on the agenda for next Monday. Referring to the email from is party’s general secretary Tom Curran stating that Fine Gael members should not nominate or support other candidates he said: “Personally I have no problem supporting President Higgins. He has done a good job. If people want to have an election, then I have no problem with that either.”

Séamus O Dómhnaill of Donegal County Council and Blackie Gavin of Mayo County Council also said they expected to hold special meetings for nominations if they were requested.

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