Battle lines drawn in Fine Gael battle for seat on Clonmel Borough Council

Eamon Lacey

Reporter:

Eamon Lacey

Email:

elacey@nationalist.ie

Battle lines drawn in Fine Gael battle for seat on Clonmel Borough Council

A political dogfight has erupted within Fine Gael with two  party powerhouses in South Tipperary locked in a bitter battle.

Tension is mounting in the party ranks  in advance of a vote that will decide  if Paudie Ahearn, a brother of Senator Garret Ahearn, or John Fitzgerald, a brother of FG veteran Cllr. Michael Fitzgerald, will fill a vacancy on Clonmel Borough Council.

The vacancy was created by the election of sitting mayor Garret Ahearn to Seanad Eireann. Voting is set to take place from Friday in a postal vote involving  ninety three members in four FG branches in Clonmel.

The filling of the vacancy has become a contentious issue within the party as vacancies  have not been contested once a family member has signalled an intention to fill the seat.

Fine Gael's Joe Leahy, a former deputy mayor of  Clonmel, was nominated to fill the vacancy but on Saturday  pulled out of the contest.

Mr Leahy said that now that a member of Garret Ahearn's family had  been nominated for the vacancy he would no longer put his name forward as it was  a long established tradition in the party  that if a family member wanted to fill the vacancy they would not be opposed.

"That's the way it has always been. It is a long standing tradition within Fine Gael and other parties.  I will now support Paudie Ahearn because I think  it is the right thing to do. I am now asking  Fine Gael members to vote for Paudie Ahearn” said Mr Leahy, who was a member of the local authority from 2009 until  2014 when he was defeated in the local elections. 

However John Fitzgerald's name is now in the ring and  the Clonmel based auctioneer is continuing to canvass in his bid to fill the vacancy.

"I don't consider my candititure in any way involves a lack of respect for any political family.

Fine Gael is a Christian democratic party and engaging with democracy is not a bad thing" said Mr Fitzgerald.

Closing date for nominations was last Thursday at 5pm. Ballot papers are expected to arrive to the homes of the ninety three  people with a vote on Friday and they will have until June 10 to make up their mind.

The votes will be  counted at Hotel Minella on  Thursday, June 11

Fine Gael members in four branches - Clonmel, Kilsheelan/Ballypatrick, Clerihan and Powerstown will decide the issue.

In recent years  vacancies on local authorities created within Fine Gael were filled by family members on two occasions - Jimmy O'Brien filled the seat left vacant by his late father Michael,  and Louise McLoughlin filled the seat left vacant by her late mother, Catherine McLoughlin.

When FG's Cllr. Johnny Fahey passed away, nobody from his family expressed an interest in filling the vacancy and Cllr. Mark Fitzgerald was nominated by the party after out voting Margaret Croke.


A Fine Gael  member, who did not want to be named, said - "This is highly unusual. The  vote is going to be very tight, there will only be a handful of votes in it" 

In a statement to The Nationalist, John Fitzgerald said he did not agree that a time honoured tradition of not contesting a vacancy when a family member stands existed.

"I was delighted for Garret Ahearn when he was elected to Seanad Eireann which created this vacancy.

“I grew up in Golden and the late Theresa Ahearn was a neighbour of mine. I am not disrespecting any political family by going for this vacancy", insisted Mr Fitzgerald.

Mr. Fitzgerald , who is chairman of the FG Clonmel branch, said he was going forward to fill the vacancy as he would like the opportunity to represent the people of Clonmel.

"I work in the centre of Clonmel, I live in Clerihan, I come from a strong background in local government and could give a good service " said Mr Fitzgerald who is married to Anne and they have three children.

Mr. Paudie Ahearn is a forty one year old quantity surveyor who runs the family farm in Grange. He lives in Clerihan with his wife Laura and their two children.

He is the eldest of four sons of the late Deputy Theresa Ahearn and former county councillor Liam Ahearn and a brother of Senator Garret Ahearn.

Mr Ahearn has been involved in FG for a long number of years, during the time of his father's elections and membership of the county council, and was also actively involved in the  Dail election and local election contested recently by his brother. He was nominated to fill the vacancy by  the Clonmel  branch of FG.

"If elected I hope to represent the people of my community with the same energy and commitment both Cllr Michael Murphy and Garret have done in the past year. Having a young family myself, I know the challenges people have with regard childcare costs. I am also very passionate about agriculture and recognise the significant employment it creates in rural communities like ours.

“I hope the members of Fine Gael in Clonmel support me in continuing the excellent work done by Michael and Garret”, he said.    

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