Thirty-six candidates battle for council seats

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ger.scully@tullamoretribune.ie

NEARLY 60,000 voters are entitled to go to the polls on Friday when elections to Offaly County Council and the European Parliament take place.

There are 59,953 people on the County Council electoral register in Offaly and parties and candidates were concluding their campaigns this week in a bid to win seats on the 19-member local authority chamber.

The electorate is up substantially from 56,531 in the 2014 local elections and with seven of those elected five years ago not running on this occasion, it promises to be a much changed council when the count concludes at the weekend.

Some of the biggest vote winners will not be on the ballot papers when the polls open at 7am on Friday, including both poll toppers in the Tullamore and Edenderry electoral areas, Brendan Killeavy and Martin O’Reilly.

The two Sinn Fein men have decided to resign their seats though Cllr Killeavy, the biggest vote getter in Offaly in 2014 with 2,778 first preferences, has not ruled out a return in the future.

Despite Sinn Fein making history by winning three seats in that election, with Carol Nolan going on to take a seat in the Dail before leaving the party over the abortion issue, control of the council still rested with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Fianna Fail won eight seats in 2014 but was hit with the departure from politics of Tullamore representative Sinead Dooley afterwards.

She was replaced by Cllr Tony McCormack, a move which resulted in Offaly County Council becoming an all-male chamber.

Long serving Edenderry Fianna Fail member Cllr Noel Bourke is retiring on this occasion, and is being joined on the sidelines by Cllr Tommy McKeigue, the veteran Fine Gael member from Tullamore and father of the house.

The other sitting councillor who has opted not to seek re-election is Cllr Dervill Dolan, the Independent from Clara who received 1,868 number ones in the Tullamore area in 2014, coming second only to Cllr Killeavy’s recordbreaking total.

With seven seats and four of those returned in 2014 no longer in politics, Tullamore is seen as the key battleground in the county and Fine Gael have selected three first-time candidates, Neil Feighery, Deirdre Fox and Bernard Westman.

The exit of so many well known faces is expected to copperfasten the hold of two outgoing Fianna Fail councillors on their seats, Cllr Frank Moran in Clara and Cllr Declan Harvey in Tullamore.

Cllr Danny Owens, current Cathaoirleach in Offaly, is aiming to retain the Fianna Fail seat he won by just four votes in 2014 but the man beaten on that occasion, Independent candidate Sean O’Brien, is expected to perform better in a wide open race.

Sinn Fein party worker Ann Marie Ennis, who lives in Walsh Island, is hoping to retain the Killeavy seat, while John Bracken, an Independent candidate in 2014, returns to the fray.

Ken Smollen, founder of the Irish Democratic Party and a general election candidate in 2016, is also in contention for a seat.

Renua Ireland, the party led by Cllr John Leahy, has three candidates running on Friday, including the Kilcormac man.

One of them, Brendan Galvin, is contesting the Tullamore electoral area while the other, Birr woman Monica Barnwell, is a running mate for Cllr Leahy.

There are six seats in the Birr area and along with Cllr Leahy, the runaway poll topper in 2014, Cllr Peter Ormond, Fianna Fail, Cllr John Clendennen, Fine Gael and Cllr John Carroll, Independent, are strongly tipped to be elected again, with the other outgoing Fianna Fail man, Cllr Eamon Dooley, also favoured to return.

Cllr Sean Maher, co-opted to fill the seat held by former Sinn Fein member when she became a TD, is expected to do well in his first electoral outing.

In a large electoral area which encompasses both the Birr and Ferbane wards, there are 14 candidates seeking the six seats, including a former Fianna Fail party worker, Joe Wynne, who is running as an Independent.

Clare Claffey from Banagher is the sole candidate for the Social Democrats in Offaly and the other candidates are Hughie Egan and Marian Pilkington, Fine Gael, Bernie Fanneran and Alan Kenny, Fianna Fail, and another Independent, Birr-based restaurateur Habibul Mukhtiar.

Only 10 candidates have been nominated in the six-seat Edenderry electoral area where Cllr Alan Davy, Sinn Fein, Rhode, is on the ballot paper shortly after being co-opted in place of Martin O’Reilly.

Cllr Noel Cribbin, elected as an Independent in 2014, has since joined Fine Gael and the Edenderry postman is said to have a very good chance of re-election, especially with the departure of fellow townsman Cllr Bourke. Cllr Liam Quinn has also been tipped to retain his Fine Gael seat.

Cllr Eddie Fitzpatrick is expected to keep his Fianna Fail seat and the party has three candidates making their electoral debut, one from Kilclonfert, Pat Daly, and two in Edenderry, Robert McDermott and Christine Traynor.

Cllr John Foley, a former member of Fianna Fail who has been an Independent for many years, is seeking re-election and another Independent, Cllr Fergus McDonnell, is campaigning for a return to the council.

The Edenderry ballot paper is completed by Offaly’s only Green Party representative, Geashill farmer Pippa Hackett, one of only eight women in Friday’s County Council race.

The turnout in Tullamore in 2014 was 59 per cent, in Birr it was 58 per cent and in Edenderry it was 55 per cent.

The electorate in Tullamore is 21,946 (20,607 in 2014), in Birr it is 21,198 (compared to 20,034 five years ago) and in Edenderry the electorate is 16,809 (up from 15,890).

The council candidates are as follows -

Birr Electoral Area: Cllr John Leahy, Kilcormac and Monica Barnwell, Rath (Renua Ireland); Clare Claffey, Banagher (Social Democrats); Marian Pilkington, Birr, Hughie Egan, Ballinahown, and Cllr John Clendennen, Kinnitty (Fine Gael); Cllr Peter Ormond, Shinrone, Cllr Eamon Dooley, Ferbane, Alan Kenny, Banagher and Bernie Fanneran, Birr (Fianna Fail); Cllr Sean Maher, Birr (Sinn Fein); Habibul Mukhtiar, Birr, Cllr John Carroll, Birr and Joe Wynne, Ferbane (Independents).

Edenderry Electoral Area: Pippa Hackett, Geashill (Green Party); Cllr Liam Quinn, Rhode and Cllr Noel Cribbin, Edenderry (Fine Gael); Pat Daly, Kilclonfert, Christine Traynor, Edenderry, Robert McDermott, Edenderry and Cllr Eddie Fitzpatrick, Cloneyhurke (Fianna Fail); Alan Davy, Rhode (Sinn Fein); John Foley, Edenderry and Fergus McDonnell, Edenderry (Independents).

Tullamore Electoral Area: Brendan Galvin, Tullamore (Renua Ireland); Bernard Westman, Tullamore, Neil Feighery, Blueball and Deirdre Fox, Durrow (Fine Gael); Cllr Declan Harvey, Tullamore, Cllr Tony McCormack, Tullamore, Cllr Frank Moran, Clara and Cllr Danny Owens, Mountbolus (Fianna Fail); Anne Marie Ennis, Walsh Island (Sinn Fein); Ken Smollen, Clara (Irish Democratic Party); Sean O’Brien, Tullamore and John Bracken, Clara (Independents).

Voters will also select their preferences for the Ireland South constituency of the European Parliament and will be asked to vote on a referendum to amend the constitutional provision in relation to the separation period required for a divorce.

The polling stations will remain open until 10pm on Friday, May 24 and counting will commence in Banagher Community College on Saturday morning, with the County Council count being completed in Mucklagh Community Centre and the European papers being moved to Cork. The referendum will be counted to its conclusion in Banagher.

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