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Leading candidate emerges to fill Laois County Council seat left vacant by Mary Sweeney’s retirement

Barry Walsh Fine Gael

Ballyroan native Barry Walsh looks set to be co-opted to the Laois County Council seat left vacant following the retirement of long-serving councillor Mary Sweeney last year.

Mr Walsh, who is aged in his early 40s and is a self-employed Quantity Surveyor, has been involved in numerous community projects in the Ballyroan area.

Educated in Ballyroan BNS and Heywood, he lives in the area with his wife and three young children.

He is the current chairman of Ballyroan-Abbey juvenile GAA club and vice-chairman of the adult club. He has also been heavily involved with the field development in the local GAA facilities as well as a key figure in organising Ballyroan’s country music festivals in recent years.

It’s understood that he is the only candidate nominated ahead of the January 31 deadline and is being put forward by both the Ballyroan and Portlaoise branches of Fine Gael.

A Fine Gael convention will be held online next Wednesday, February 2, but with only one candidate there will be no need for a postal vote.

Only party members in the Portlaoise Municipal District have a say in deciding who fills the seat in what is standard practise for co-option to a local council.

There are only three branches in the area – Portlaoise, Ballyroan and Abbeyleix. The party is already represented in the area by Willie Aird and Thomasina Connell in Portlaoise though there will be relief in Ballyroan that the seat is remaining in the community.

Mr Walsh will continue a long tradition of Ballyroan having a member of Laois County Council, following on from both Mary Sweeney and Charlie McDonald who have served before him.

Mary Sweeney – who was first elected in 1999 and was successful again in 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2019 – announced her retirement from local politics last September.

However, she only officially finished in the role at the end of December at which stage the process for finding her replacement began.

When a councillor retires between elections, the seat is generally offered to family members first.

When it was established that neither Mary’s son Conor, daughter Aoife or members of her wider family were interested in taking on the role, Mr Walsh emerged as the leading contender to fill the vacancy.

It’s believed that his co-option will be rubber-stamped by next week’s convention and he will be in the role in time for the February meeting of Laois County Council.

Mr Walsh will bring Fine Gael’s numbers in the council back to seven as he joins Willie Aird and Thomasina Connell in the Portlaoise Municipal District as well as Aisling Moran and PJ Kelly from Graiguecullen-Portarlington and John King and current Cathaoirleach Conor Bergin in Borris-in-Ossory/Mountmellick.

The next Local Elections are due to take place in May 2024.

SEE ALSO – Ballinakill woman selected as Green Party representative for Portlaoise area

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Steven Miller is owner and managing editor of LaoisToday.ie. Husband of Emily, father of William, Lillian and John, he's happiest when he's telling stories