The late withdrawal of one of the candidates meant that there was no need for a vote at this evening’s Fine Gael Local Election selection convention for the Portlaoise Municipal District.
Jim Ring from Abbeyleix, a Fine Gael candidate in 2014 and an independent candidate in 2004, informed the party of his decision to withdraw prior to the meeting – leaving the path clear for sitting councillors Willie Aird and Mary Sweeney and relative newcomer Thomasina Connell.
They will now contest the 2019 Local Elections in Portlaoise, which are set to be held on Friday, May 24.
It will be an eighth election for Cllr Aird to contest, a fifth for Cllr Sweeney and a first for the young Portlaoise-based solicitor Ms Connell, albeit she did win almost 4,500 votes in the 2016 General Election as Minister Charlie Flanagan’s running mate.
In a letter read out to the meeting in the Killeshin Hotel, Jim Ring cited increased work committments as his reasons for pulling out.
The meeting was chaired by Cllr Tom Farrell from Athlone who is a former chairman of the Westmeath GAA county board. It was also attended by General Election hopefuls, Mary Newman from Tipperary and Cllr John Clendennen from Offaly.
Cllr Clendennen, who has been selected by Fine Gael to contest the next General Election in Laois-Offaly and addressed the meeting at the end, was joined by his father Percy, a councillor for 40 years in Offaly.
Another stalwart of the party in the house was Charlie McDonald, who served as a Senator, TD and Councillor for the party and whose seat Mary Sweeney filled when she was first elected back in 1999.
Indeed Charlie’s son Martin seconded Mary Sweeney’s nomination as a candidate after she had been proposed by her daughter Aoife.
The historical links didn’t end there as Willie Aird’s proposer was Dick O’Connell which Cllr Aird informed the gathering had significance as it was Dick’s late father who first nominated Willie way back in March 1979.
Cllr Aird also referenced Charlie McDonald as he recalled canvassing for him for in the 1977 General Election and his subsequent election at the count in the Macra na Feirme hall in Portlaoise.
Also among the crowd was Vivienne Phelan, the young Stradbally woman who will challenge for a place on the party’s ticket in the Graiguecullen-Portarlington District. Their convention is being held this Friday in the Gandon Inn.
Thomasina Connell was proposed by Nathan Hayes and seconded by Martin Deegan, who has strong Fine Gael links too as his uncle James was an elected representative in the old Emo Electoral Area for a number of years prior to 2014.
The stated aim of the party is to win three seats and regain control of Laois County Council.
The meeting was informed that Fine Gael headquarters retain the right to add or delete candidates.
In addition there was poignant moments as the late Kathleen O’Brien, a former councillor, and the late Aidan Kennedy were remembered.