Three names have emerged as candidates to fill the Laois County Council seat left vacant following the retirement of Fine Gael’s Emo-based councillor Tom Mulhall due to health reasons.
James Daly, PJ Kelly and Vivienne Phelan are all in the running and expected to be nominated for the position.
A party convention for the Fine Gael members in the Graiguecullen-Portarlington district would need to be organised and a vote arranged to decide who would be co-opted to fill the role.
Unlike when a Dáil seat becomes available, there is no by-election and instead the party co-opts someone as a replacement.
Generally there is an understanding that if a family member is interested in taking on the position then they will be unchallenged.
In Mr Mulhall’s case none of his family were keen to fill the seat though his preference is for PJ Kelly, his long-standing ally and director of elections since he first won a seat on Laois County Council in 2009.
Mr Kelly is a farmer based in Courtwood and a long-serving secretary-treasurer of the Emo-Ballybrittas-Vicarstown Fine Gael branch. He is also Fine Gael’s chairman of the Graiguecullen-Portarlington district.
Currently he is treasurer of the Courtwood GAA and a former chairman of the club as well as of St Conleth’s ladies football and St Paul’s juvenile club. A long-time Fine Gael member he has canvassed for the party for a number of years and with current and past TDs in the area including Charlie Flanagan, Martin Heydon, Olwyn Enright and Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy.
Vivienne Phelan, who is the current chairperson of Laois-Offaly Fine Gael and a former member of the party’s national executive, has also confirmed that she will be putting her name forward.
From Stradbally, she was a candidate in the 2019 Local Elections in the Graiguecullen-Portarlington District though didn’t win a seat. A vet by profession, she said she “learned a lot from being a first time candidate in 2019 and retains a passion for politics”.
“Tom Mulhall leaves big shoes to fill but I’m up for the challenge and will be contesting.”
James Daly has also told LaoisToday that he is “thinking of it after a good few supporters asked me to put my name forward”.
The Timahoe native was a councillor for 23 years, having first been elected when he was only 21 in 1991. He was subsequently re-elected in the old Luggacurren area in 1999, 2004 and 2009 but lost his seat in 2014 when the four-seat Luggacurren and Emo areas were merged into a new Graiguecullen-Portarlington six-seat district.
He served as chairman of Laois County Council in 2009 and vice-chairman on a number of occasions as well as contesting the Fine Gael convention to run in the General Election, including in 2006 when he was beaten by Charlie Flanagan who returned in 2007 to win the Dáil seat he had lost five years earlier.
“I’m thinking of it but we’ll have to wait and see what the process is and what the party are doing.”
Fine Gael at national level will oversee an election, which will necessitate nomination papers being sent to the party’s members in just the Graiguecullen-Portarlington area.
A candidate will need to be nominated by a branch to be eligible.
Once nominations have been returned they will then organise a postal vote.
Given the time needed, there won’t be anyone in place for the next Laois County Council meeting on Monday, February 22, with the meeting at the end of March a more likely target.