By Conor Kane via Irish Times
Tipperary is one of those counties where the local authority profile will look very different after May 23rd. Not only is it losing seven town councils, it will also become a unified county council for the first time following the Government’s decision to merge the current South Riding and North Riding councils which date to the 19th century.
Nine electoral areas have been reduced to five, while the county’s current 47 seats across the two councils have been cut to 40 for the new, all-county local authority. With 12 of the current batch of county councillors taking a step back from local politics, that leaves more than enough seats for the 35 remaining sitting members to fight over. If politics were that simple, though, there would be no need to have elections.
Issues such as unemployment, water quality, especially in the big towns, hospital overcrowding, particularly at South Tipperary General, cuts in other medical services and social welfare payments, are the ones meeting the candidates most often – particularly from Government parties.
Fine Gael won almost half (12) of the seats in South Tipperary in 2009, but only took four of those on offer in North Tipperary, partly due to the Lowry factor, which has hit its traditional support ever since former minister Michael Lowry turned Independent in the late 1990s.
Four of the seven non-party councillors in North Tipperary are “Lowry Independents” and the organisation is running an additional two candidates in the Thurles-Templemore electoral area. Two Fine Gael councillors in that area are stepping down so the party is hoping Maura Byrne and Michael Cleary can make the electoral leap from the town council, while Liam Brereton and Michael Madden shore up their strategy. Labour has three seats in the north of the county but will be doing well to hold on to all three, especially as Jonathan Meaney is not running again.
Fianna Fáil’s 2009 haul of six in North Tipperary was reasonable, given its national standing at the time. There will be much attention in particular on the performances of Michael Smith and Séamus Hanafin, both from political dynasties, in Thurles-Templemore.
If the Lowry factor must be taken into account in the northern half of Tipperary, then the performance of Mattie McGrath’s candidates in the south will also be scrutinised. The former Fianna Fáiler turned outspoken Independent TD has two candidates running under the McGrath banner, both in the Clonmel-Cahir electoral area. Richie Molloy was successful for Fianna Fáil last time out and has also turned Independent in the meantime, while newcomer Martin Lonergan has been keeping up a high profile lately.
They will be helped by the defections from politics of Fine Gael’s Tom Acheson and Billy Shoer of the (independent) Workers and Unemployed Action Group. The latter group is led by TD Séamus Healy, who topped the poll in the area in 2009 before regaining his Dáil seat in 2011, so they can’t rely on him to pull in the votes around Clonmel. In Pearl Sheehan and Marie Murphy, however, they have hard-working candidates who are well known in their own areas.
Fianna Fáil’s Siobhán Ambrose will be hoping to be close to the top of the poll in Clonmel-Cahir. Daughter of long-serving retired councillor Tom Ambrose, she easily won a seat in 2009 and another good performance could pave the way for a pitch for the Fianna Fáil nomination come general election time.
There will be much interest in how Sinn Féin performs in a county where, traditionally, it hasn’t been the strongest and has just one county council seat, held by Séamus Morris in Nenagh. An improvement on that is expected, with strong candidates in the likes of Catherine Cleary and town councillors Martin Browne, David Dunne and David Doran