The landscape of local politics in Longford will change utterly when voters go to the polls on Friday, May 23 next.
Instead of choosing twenty-one county councillors from four electoral areas, the electorate will elect eighteen councillors from three electoral areas.
And unlike the last local elections on June 5, 2009, there will be no election to fill the nine seats on both Longford Town Council and Granard Town Council as they are being abolished under Local Government Reform initiatives.
A provision of €140,000 has been made for the running of the local elections in Longford County Council’s expenditure budget for 2014, and with the reduction in county councillors, together with a number of planned retirements, a gratuity provision of €500,000 has been made.
The budget also provided for €607, 479 in representational payments and expenses for councillors which is a decrease of 8.9%.
Following the publication of last year’s Local Electoral Area Boundary Report, Longford has been carved up into three electoral areas – Ballymahon, Granard and Longford representing 13,284; 12, 539 and 13,177 people respectively, and each will elect six representatives.
The former Drumlish Electoral Area (EA) is incorporated into the much changed Granard EA as is the townland of Killoe. Newtownforbes, which was formerly in the Drumlish EA, is included in the Longford EA, while Edgeworthstown has being switched from Granard to Ballymahon EA.
One third of the twenty-one county councillors elected in 2009 won’t be on the ballot paper in May. Fine Gael’s Gerry Brady, Victor Kiernan and Mayor Larry Bannon, along with Fianna Fail’s Denis Glennon and Barney Steele have indicated their intention to retire from local politics.
In ’09 Alan Mitchell was elected as an FG representative to both Longford County and Town Councils, but following his appointment to the judiciary in 2012, John Browne and Denis Hughes were co-opted to replace him on the county and town councils, respectively.
The sudden death of Paddy Belton (FG) in April 2013 – he was first elected in the Ballymahon EA in 1999 - saw Kenagh native Colm Murray co-opted to fill the vacancy.
The Fine Gael team in the south of the county now features Cllr Sean Farrell, Cllr Colm Murray, Paul Ross and Gerard Farrell.
In 2009, forty-one candidates (FG 13, FF 12, Sinn Fein 4, Independents 10 & Labour 2) contested the 21 seats available on Longford County Council and the result was FG 10, FF 8 and Ind 3.
Cllr Peggy Nolan (FG), who received the highest number of first preferences of any the candidates – 977, was elected County Mayor at the Council AGM with Independent Cllr Paul Connell voting with FG in a pact to secure control of the local authority.
Just five women contested the 2009 County Council election – Cllrs Nolan and Sexton secured election, while Maura Kilbride-Harkin (FG), Ann Marie Nolan and Margaret Connell (both FF), were unsuccessful.
Thirty-three candidates (to-date) (FG 12, FF 10, SF 2 & Ind 9) have publicly declared their intention to seek election on May 23 and there are already seven women in the field – outgoing Cllrs Nolan and Sexton, Maura Kilbride-Harkin (the Granard Town Councillor who previously served as a County Councillor), Mary Lillis (an Independent who recently defected from FF), Yvonne Ni Mhurchu (FG), Barbara Smyth (SF) and Niamh Moran (Ind). So in percentage terms there are already a far greater number of female candidates than five years ago – 21% compared to 12%.
Sixteen outgoing councillors (6 in Granard EA and 5 each in Longford and Ballymahon EAs) are seeking re-election.
Outgoing Micheal Carrigy, John Duffy and Frank Kilbride (FG) and Luie McEntire, PJ Reilly and Martin Mulleady (FF) are in a congested Granard field of thirteen candidates.
FG’s team also includes Padraig Brady (son of outgoing Cllr Gerry Brady) and Granard Town Councillor Maura Kilbride-Harkin.
Another Granard Town Councillor Tommy Stokes (Ind) is seeking election as is Longford Town Councillor James Keogh – the former FG member from Killoe has thrown his hat into the ring as an Independent.
Edgeworthstown’s John Coyle, son of Jimmy Coyle, is also running for Fianna Fail in the Granard Area.
Mary Lillis (Ind) and John Reilly (SF) are also in the race in this Electoral Area.
There are five outgoing councillors running in Longford EA – Peggy Nolan and John Browne (FG), Paul Connell and Mae Sexton (Ind) and Padraig Loughrey (FF). Longford Town Council member Michael Connellan and Chamber of Commerce President Seamus Butler are also on the FF ticket. Butler was dramatically edged out (677 to 675) in a battle for the final seat in 2009 by party colleague Denis Glennon (who isn’t running on this occasion). Two Longford Town Councillors, Tony Flaherty (formerly FF) and Gerry Warnock will be running as Independents and the field is completed by two women - Gaelscoil Principal Yvonne Ni Mhurchu (FG) and Sinn Fein’s Barbara Smyth (who addressed the party Ard Fheis at the weekend).
The five outgoing councillors in Ballymahon EA Sean Farrell and Colm Murray (FG), Mick Cahill and Tom Victory (FF) and Mark Casey (Ind) will be joined in the race for the six seats on offer by Paul Ross and Gerard Farrell (FG), Pat O’Toole (FF) and Niamh Moran (Ind).
Four of the 18 Town Councillors, three on Longford Town Council (Peggy Nolan, Paul Connell and Mae Sexton) and one on Granard Town Council (PJ Reilly), are also members of Longford County Council and they are aiming to retain their seats.
Six more Town Councillors (Longford’s Michael Connellan, Tony Flaherty, James Keogh and Gerry Warnock and Granard’s Maura-Kilbride Harkin and Tommy Stokes) will also be in the election race.
The unknown factor is Labour who haven’t announced any candidates, however, party sources previously stated it is their intention to have representatives in each of the EAs. In ’09,
Labour’s two candidates were Seamus Keaveney (Longford EA) and James Feeney (Ballymahon EA) but they made little impact. Mae Sexton, a Progressive Democrats TD from 2002 to ’07 was elected as an Independent councillor in 2009, but she joined Labour in April 2010 (running unsuccessfully in 2011 general election), before leaving the party in 2012.