Over 5,000 voters in South-East Clare could play a major role in the destination of the last two seats in the hotly contested Limerick East constituency this Friday.
Residents in Shannon Banks, Westbury, Parteen and parts of Ardnacrusha will have to choose from 13 candidates in Limerick East instead of 16 for voters in neighbouring Clonlara, who will be exercising their franchise in the Clare constituency.
Householders in Westbury, Shannon Banks and Parteen could be forgiven for feeling somewhat confused when it comes to voting during different elections.
Like all of their neighbouring communities in South-East Clare, they have to elect candidates from the Killaloe Electoral Area onto Clare County Council during local authority elections. However, they cross the county boundary into Limerick East for General and European elections.
A lot of Clare people will be keenly interested in watching the fortunes of Clonlara-born Deputy Jan O’Sullivan in Limerick East once the ballot boxes are opened this Saturday.
A former Mayor of Limerick City, Labour’s main standard bearer in the Treaty City has been a dominant force in local politics for 20 years and is one of the hot favourites to retain her seat.
The late Jim Kemmy encouraged Jan O’Sullivan to run for Limerick City Council in 1985 and she was elected at her first attempt. She was re-elected in 1991 and again in 1999 when she headed the poll and was rewarded with the somewhat inappropriate title of Alderman.
Councillor O’Sullivan also contested the 1992 General Election and came close enough to winning a second seat. In 1993, Jan was elected to the Seanad and subsequently elected leader of the Labour group in Seanad Éireann and was selected as Mayor of Limerick for 1993 to 1994.
Unsuccessful in the 1997 General Election, she was subsequently elected, heading the poll in a by-election, against all the odds, following the death of Jim Kemmy. She was re-elected in 2002 and again in 2007, has served as education spokesperson and is now the party spokesperson for health.
Labour are confident that it can gain a seat in Limerick East with the addition of another former Mayor of Limerick, Councillor Joe Leddin, as Deputy O’Sullivan’s running mate.
A lot will depend on whether or not Deputy O’Sullivan can secure election with a significant surplus and if this would transfer strongly to Councillor Leddin.
At this stage, it looks as if Fine Gael Finance spokesman, Michael Noonan will top the poll for the first time and he should be closely followed by former Defence Minister Willie O’Dea, who headed the poll in the 2007 General Election with over 19,000 first preferences.
Despite the expected dramatic collapse of the Fianna Fáil vote and the loss of 4,500 votes from the constituency, all the pundits believe Deputy O’Dea, who has a huge personal vote, will be re-elected.
However, the odds appear to be heavily stacked against Minister of State, Peter Power from being returned to the 31st Dáil. He is 6/1 on with the bookies to hold on and it would be considered as a real coup if he survived considering the reduction in the number of seats from five to four in this constituency.
A battle royal is expected for the last seat between Councillor Leddin, Deputy Kieran O’Donnell (Fine Gael) and Deputy Power.
Deputy O’Donnell will need a big transfer from Deputy Noonan or other candidates if he is to survive.
If, as expected, Cian Prendiville (United Left Alliance) and Maurice Quinlivan (Sinn Féin) don’t poll high enough to remain in the race for the last seat, their transfers together with Deputy O’Sullivan’s surplus would be more likely to go to Councillor Leddin and may be just enough to help him pip O’Donnell.
However, it would be wrong to totally dismiss the chances of another Mayor of Limerick, Kevin Kiely who left the Fine Gael party to run as an independent over his dismay at not being added to the ticket as a third Fine Gael candidate in the city.
It looks as if it will be a difficult election for Green Party candidate, Sheila Cahill who could suffer from the anti Government backlash and public fury with the Greens.
Interestingly, two people who were involved in court actions with Deputy O’Dea, Matt Larkin (Independent) and Maurice Quinlivan are seeking election to the Dáil.
The other candidates are Conor O’Donoghue from the Christian Solidarity Party and retired lecturer Denis Riardon, who is running as an Independent.