THE expected return of Dr John Hillery as a possible candidate for the next general election is adding spice to the political manoeuvrings that have stepped up a gear across all parties.
Although the resignation of Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald on Tuesday prevented a Christmas snap election, which no politician or voter wanted, all prospective candidates are now firmly in general election mode.
The extraordinary political events of the past week suggest that, unless Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin add new safeguards to their confidence and supply agreement, which was severely dented over the Department of Justice emails debacle, a general election could be called early next year.
Fine Gael, which leads the beleaguered, minority-led Government, moved quickly to select its two outgoing Clare deputies, Minister of State Pat Breen and Joe Carey, at its selection convention on Monday night.
While Senator Martin Conway, who was one of the three nominations, withdrew at the last minute to avoid the need for a vote, he has made a case for his addition to the Clare ticket, as part of a three-candidate strategy.
Now the focus turns to Fianna Fáil, who have previously dominated the local political landscape, winning three seats in 1997, only to see their return slump to one standard bearer – Timmy Dooley – in 2011 and 2016.
The son of former President of Ireland Paddy Hillery, Dr John Hillery, has confirmed that he is interested in the Clare Fianna Fáil General Election Selection Convention.
Having secured a place on the Fianna Fáil ticket as a late entrant, following the surprise retirement of former Defence Minister Tony Killeen before the 2011 General Election, Dr Hillery secured 6,015 first-preferences votes, compared with 6,789 for his running mate, Deputy Dooley.
Six weeks ago, Dr Hillery, who is covering two consultant psychiatric posts at the moment, handed in his notice and is due to finish his medical work on February 2. Based, for work purposes, in Dublin and Celbridge, he is planning to do some private practice in Clare.
“I would like to spend a lot more time in Clare. I was always interested in contesting a general election in Clare. I have never lost that interest. Other factors got in the way for the 2016 General Election.
“I also want an opportunity to talk to my supporters over the coming weeks about the possibility of contesting the next general election,” Dr Hillery said. He acknowledged that contesting the local Fianna Fáil selection convention would be difficult, if it is held before Christmas.
Local Fianna Fáil officer and national executive member, Gerry Reidy, believes the convention will more than likely be held in the new year. He pointed out the nomination process and notification of members normally takes about three weeks, unless there is a snap election.
Clare Comhairle Dáil Ceanntair chairman, Michael Enright, said he expects the selection convention and election strategies for constituencies will be discussed at a Fianna Fáil national executive meeting on this Thursday night.
Mr Enright said, in his opinion, it is possible but not definite that the convention would be held before Christmas.
At this stage, Councillor Cathal Crowe, Rita McInerney and outgoing Deputy Timmy Dooley are the only declared candidates but this could change over the coming weeks.
Councillor Clare Colleran-Molloy, who has no immediate plans to contest the convention, is looking forward to becoming the Mayor of Ennis next summer.
Councillor Ann Norton said she is undecided at present about whether or not she will contest a second successive election. She said she would consider her position when it becomes clear how many independent candidates are contesting the election.
At the time of writing, it seems there will be a reduction in the number of female candidates contesting the next election in Clare. Councillor Mary Howard, who contested the last election for Fine Gael, did not put herself forward at the convention on Monday night and, at this stage, it seems unlikely that she will be added as a candidate.
Former Labour Deputy Michael McNamara, who lost his Dáil seat in 2016, hasn’t made a final decision as to whether or not he will contest the next general election under the party banner.
The barrister and part-time farmer in Scariff is in negotiations with party leader, Brendan Howlin, other deputies and party officials about what policies candidates will present at the next election.
If he agrees to run for Labour again, he stresss that the party must pursue policies that benefit ordinary people and that address the decline in rural Ireland.
Having voted against the sale of the last 25% remaining State-owned share of Aer Lingus, he expressed concern about the cancellation of flights that provide connectivity to the region at short notice. If he is contesting the election, he said he would emphasise implementing measures to develop agriculture and to protect this industry from a hard Brexit.
Asked if he is prepared to contest the election as an independent candidate, he confirmed he would in the event that an agreement could not be reached with the Labour Party.
Local Labour Party activist, Dermot Hayes, said the convention and the party’s electoral strategy would be discussed at a party executive meeting on December 5. Mr Hayes added the convention would probably be held in the new year.
With Dr Michael Harty contesting the next election, he will be hoping to retain most of the 8,629 first preferences votes that helped him to clinch a Dáil seat at the expense of Mr McNamara.
With a new party leader at the helm following the departure of Gerry Adams, Clare Sinn Féin will be expecting an increase in support, which could place a candidate in contention for the last seat.
It is understood that all party conventions have to be held before the third week in December. If Sinn Féin decide to run one candidate in the Banner County, it is expected to come down to a battle between Councillor Mike McKee and Noeleen Moran, who secured 4,216 first preferences in the last general election.
With the expected transfer of 5,994 people in the electoral division of Ballyglass in the Limerick City constituency to the Clare constituency, the quota for the next general election in Clare could be more than 12,000.