By David Raleigh
Newly elected Mayor of Limerick City and County, Stephen Keary has said he "will be Mayor of Limerick for all of the people of Limerick."
"I want to be an ambassador for Limerick, at home and abroad," he said.
The Fine Gael councillor he wanted to "sincerely apologise again" for any hurt caused to non nationals, after he claimed last week that they were a drain on the Irish social welfare system and had contributed to the country's hospital and housing waiting list crisis.
"We, in the mid west, need to speak with one voice," he said.
"John Hume was the greatest nationalist leader in modern Ireland in his quest for peace. He once said, 'I was grateful for the opportunity to make a difference'. Well, I hope to make a difference and I look forward to working for all of the people and with all of the people."
A petition signed by more than 2,000 asking for the Taoiseach to block Cllr Keary being elected mayor in a pact with Fianna Fáil, was handed into the council chamber by Solidarity party councillor Cian Prendiville.
Cllr Prendiville was jeered by other councillors as he opposed Cllr Keary's nomination and proposed his party colleague Paul Keller for the mayoralty.
"We need people who stand up for all of the people. Paul Keller has a track record in rejecting racism and bigotry," he told the council meeting," Cllr Prendiville said.
A protest is to take place in Limerick, this afternoon against a Fine Gael councillor becoming mayor of the city and county, after it was claimed he made “racist” comments about non nationals.
Cllr Stephen Keary who is due to be elected mayor at 3pm today in a pact with Fianna Fáil, said last week that non nationals are a “drain” on the social welfare system and are contributing to housing and hospital waiting lists.
“They see us as easy pickings…People have come here from Eastern Europe for the handouts. It has become a huge problem here. The substantial rise on social housing and hospital waiting lists is a recent thing," he told a meeting of Limerick City and County Council.
Keary (pictured), from Croagh, West Limerick, who is the father-in-law of Fine Gael junior minister Patrick O’Donovan, later apologised after receiving a fierce backlash from other councillors as well as human rights and migrant rights groups.
He added that he was merely airing complaints made to him by some of his constituents.
The Labour councillor for Limerick City East, Elena Secas, said Cllr Keary was “not fit to be mayor”, and called on the Fine Gael party leader Leo Varadkar to condemn the remarks.
Cllr Secas, who's originally from Moldova, claimed the comments were “racist”, “insulting”, and “totally unacceptable and an insult to all immigrant communities in Ireland.”
“As an Irish person with an immigrant background myself who has been working tirelessly and has been contributing to the local community and the society in general, I speak on behalf of the immigrant communities in Limerick and in the rest of the country, who have made this country their home, and been working tirelessly contributing to our society.
Cian Prendiville, Solidarity party, who has helped organise today's protest claimed Cllr Keary’s comments as a “racist rant”.
He rejected Cllr Keary’s apology as a "half-hearted, politician's answer."
“The reality is there are more people leaving Limerick than coming, and yet the housing and health crises keep getting worse because of the austerity policies Cllr Keary supports,” Cllr Prendiville added.
However, Fine Gael Cllr Michael Hourigan, a previous mayor, said the party remain fully behind Cllr Keary for the mayoralty.
An online petition set up last Wednesday, calling for the Taoiseach to block Cllr Keary’s candidacy, has received almost 2,000 signatures.
Today's protest is due to take place outside Limerick County Hall at 2.30pm, prior to the mayoral election which gets underway at 3pm.