Town politics dominant in Portlaoise election

In a polar opposite to the other two Laois electoral areas, what has emerged from Portlaoise is not unlike what would have emerged from an election to the now defunct town council.

In a polar opposite to the other two Laois electoral areas, what has emerged from Portlaoise is not unlike what would have emerged from an election to the now defunct town council.

Of the seven seats available, five have gone to politicians who are firmly rooted in Portlaoise town. The sixth seat went to a councillor, who was a former Portlaoise area representative.

Only one councillor could be said to have come in from ‘the country’. And, arguably, were it not for the fact that John Joe Fennelly had already such a high profile, it is highly likely that no rural councillor would be elected in this new district which stretches to Ballinakill and the Kilkenny border. The result was also notably for the surprise success of the Labour Party.

Like the town council, the race to represent this new Portlaoise area included a group of candidates standing on a range of issues and from diverse backgrounds. The outcome however, is more reflective of the mainstream Irish politics than the apparently more conservative other Laois electoral areas.

Willie Aird, FG, was once again the big winner topping the poll . He has probably the most impressive electoral record of any local politician in Laois and this reflects his popularity in his home town. The councillor has the added bonus of being a farmer which brings in a lot of extra votes.

John Joe Fennelly, FF, was a poll topper in his old electoral area, and it is a mark of his political skills that he came a close second in this race.

It is unlikely that any other local politician in Laois could have come up with a result like this in an area dominated by a town. It must be noted that there were few out and out rural candidates in the field.

One candidate and party who may have mixed views on the race is Caroline Dwane Stanley of Sinn Féin.

She had never stood for election before this, but had been co-opted onto Portlaoise and Laois councils. With the backing of a big SF machine, including husband and TD Brian Stanley, she was elected on the first count behind Aird and Fennelly.

However, she was surely in line to top the poll until tragedy struck a family in St Brigid’s estate. The death of Maria Louise Greene set of a chain of events which saw her father standing for election.

Mr Greene said he decided to run because Cllr Aird had suggested that St Brigid’s would have to run a candidate to get better road safety in their estate.

SF had established itself in St Brigids and hoped that people there would support it at the polls. However, the area understandbly got behind Mr Greene, who ended up with more than 700 votes.

It is possible that had SF got a clear run, the party could have won a second seat in Portlaoise.

The success of Mary Sweeney was a big result for Fine Gael as she is a big part of the party machine in the Portlaoise area, and is closely linked to Minister Charlie Flanagan. The election saw FG losing a stalwart and active local woman, Kathleen O’Brien.

Fianna Fáil will be happy that Catherine Fitzgerald and Jerry Lodge were elected. They have represented the party through some tough times without much support in Portlaoise, on both town and county councils.

The election was notable for two other results, the election of a Labour Party candidate and the defeat of Rotimi Adebari.

In hindsight, given the profile of Noel Touhy, it is not a big surprise that Labour took a seat. But it is a big coup, for the local organisation and Senator John Whelan.

Laois politics is a less diverse place with the loss of Rotimi Adebari who put Portlaoise on the map for the right reasons.