They sat calmly side by side, descendants of people who were opponents in a turbulent and bitter period in Irish history.
Fianna Fáil councillor Thomas McEllistrim, whose grandfather of the same name was a key IRA leader in the War of Independence and took the Republican side in the Civil War, and Fine Gael Cllr Patrick Connor Scarteen, whose two pro-Treaty grand-uncles were shot dead by the IRA in a Civil War atrocity, sat together in the front row.
The symbolism yesterday marked the end of Civil War politics in Kerry after Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael formed an unprecedented alliance to control the county council and elected John Brassil (FF) as chairman on a 25-8 vote, in Tralee.
But echoes of gunshot from distant times could still be heard, with Independent Cllr Brendan Cronin remarking: “There should be metal detectors on the doors (of the chamber) for old ammunition.”
Sinn Féin’s Toireasa Ferris warned: “Don’t be surprised if there’s a few grenades thrown from this side of the council” to which quick-fire Independent Johnny Healy-Rae retorted, to laughter: “No one will be surprised at that!”
Mr Brassil, 51, from Ballyheigue, an engineer and pharmacist, has been a councillor since 1999 following a tradition set by his late father, Noel. The new council must adopt a more flexible approach to problem-solving and provide a quicker response to effect change where services are found wanting, he said.
Referring to protocols in Dublin County Council under which councillors get “quick and meaningful replies” to their queries, he hoped to have something similar in Kerry within a year. “I believe this council term will determine the significance and importance of local government now and into the future.”
Mr Brassil defeated Cllr Brendan Cronin on a 25-8 vote. Some Sinn Féin, Independent and Labour councillors supported Mr Brassil even though the two main parties — which had a pre-agreed pact — had enough combined votes (18) to secure the chair of the 33-seat council.
Cllr McEllistrim, meanwhile, was elected vice-chairman, defeating Independent Cllr Donal Grady. The meeting proceeded despite legal action being taken by Independent candidate Dan Kiely — who lost out on a seat by two votes — in the Listowel Electoral Area. A court case is scheduled for June 17. He claimed yesterday’s meeting was invalid, but the council determined it was valid under the Local Elections (Petitions and Disqualifications) Act 1974 and any decision taken would stand, irrespective of the outcome of the court case.
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