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Green energy and electoral areas hold key to Kerry elections

Almost half of the candidates running in the Kerry local elections are sitting councillors, reports Anne Lucey.

Green energy, new electoral areas. and the loss of the town council in Killarney are set to play a role in the Kerry local elections, where almost half the candidates running are sitting councillors.

Some 62 candidates are running for 33 seats. Just three councillors are retiring, including Graham Spring, the mayor of Tralee and the last Spring to be involved in Kerry politics.

The boundaries in Kerry have been drastically redrawn since 2014, with six local areas now instead of four and a narrowing of focus on the major towns of Tralee and Killarney. The population is 147,707.

The new three seater ‘Corca Dhuibhne’ encompasses the Gaeltacht peninsula of Dingle and runs as far as English-speaking Milltown in mid-Kerry, one of the fastest growing towns in the country.

Two sitting councillors here are back on the ballot papers seeking re-election. Castleisland is finally its own four-seat local electoral area. Cut from Tralee and Killarney, three sitting councillors — Fine Gael’s Pat McCarthy, and Bobby O’Connell and Fianna Fáil’s Thomas McEllistrim — are seeking to be returned. The emergence of strong new faces familiar from the Castleisland community are likely to be factors. However, Jackie Healy-Rae, 23, from Kilgarvan, who is son of TD Michael, is putting in a strong performance.

The Healy-Rae machine is mounting a highly visible poster and trailer advertising campaign across the districts and large branded vehicles are crisscrossing the county. They will be closely watched this time.

Danny’s daughter Maura, also based in Kilgarvan, teaches in Co Cork and was co-opted onto Killarney on the election of her father to the Dáil of her father. She is seeking election for the first time. Danny polled more than two quotas in Killarney in 2014.

Danny’s son Johnny Healy-Rae, who also polled a remarkable one-and-a-half times the quota in first preferences in the south and west in 2014, has a narrower and more hotly contested area this time. In Corca Dhuibhne and Tralee, two Independents — councillor Sam Locke and David Russell — are strongly affiliated to Michael Healy-Rae.

In Killarney just 10 candidates, six of them sitting councillors, are running for seven seats. The abolition of the town council hit Killarney hard and there is anger that the town’s traffic and housing problems have not been addressed.

Six of the candidates going forward are sitting councillors but three new candidates may pick off not just one but two seats in Killarney. These include former mayor of Killarney, hotelier Niall ‘Botty’ O’Callaghan, who is running a non-canvass, online campaign, former Labour senator Marie Moloney, and the Sinn Féin candidate John Buckley, who narrowly missed a seat last time out has made the national park a priority.

In contrast to Killarney, Tralee has 17 candidates for seven seats in Tralee. Six are sitting councillors. The sitting council has worked well together and all are likely to be returned. Sinn Féin has added a third at the last minute — former town councillor Cathal Foley, who is likely to be in the contest along with former Fianna Fáil councillor for the town Johnny Wall.

The resurgence of the Green Party is one of the features of the 2019 election in Kerry. Killarney had the first Green councillors in Ireland in the late 1980s but the party has since flagged. Now, though, there are three Greens running in Kenmare, Tralee, and Dingle.

Oil exploration is starting off the Kerry coast, with promises of up to 600 jobs if oil is found. The Greens have already staged a ‘keep it in the ground’ protest at Kerry Airport. However, wind and green energy have proved controversial in Kerry; In the six-seater Listowel, where six sitting councillors are seeking to retain their seats, chartered accountant John O’Sullivan is standing for a reversal of the 2012 landscape strategy which deemed most of coastal north Kerry non-scenic and suitable for wind turbines.

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