Council Affairs: Mayoral debate made for warts-and-all viewing

Upfront host Katie Hannon takes a selfie with candidates before going live. Photo: Don Moloney.

THIS week’s RTÉ Upfront Limerick mayoral debate was more akin to a crèche full of cantankerous toddlers bawling for their feed than a serious discussion on the future vision for our city and county, writes Limerick Post satirical columnist Sean Mellor.

With quivering lips aplenty and the odd temper tantrum thrown in for good measure, the whole spectacle that unfolded in the Lime Tree Theatre was solid gold car crash TV in places, no matter how hard seasoned pro Katie Hannon tried to keep things on the rails.

To her great credit and patience, Hannon started proceedings nicely by putting Limerick in the same company as New York and London as we prepare to vote for the country’s first ever directly-elected mayor (DEM) on June 7.

For the most part, the dialogue, while not always meaningful, was respectful at least.

Hannon was ruthless in her early questioning, which made for great television, even if I had to watch some of it while peeking from behind my ink-stained fingers.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

With the obligatory selfies out of the way, a live audience of 200 joined TV viewers at home, who were still wound up after another episode of Crime Call.

Straight for the jugular Katie went, more power to her.

Hannon quizzed candidates on previous hot-topic statements. Photo: Don Moloney.
Pic: Don Moloney

Chain lost but not forgotten

Fianna Fáil’s Dee Ryan was quizzed about previously being a member of Labour and Fine Gael before settling with her latest political bedfellows. There’s certainly no escaping her historic tweets about Micheál ‘Not A Leader’ Martin. Again, Ryan was sticking to her evolved position line and what an excellent leader Micheál had proved himself to be in the time since she pressed ‘send’.

Cllr Frankie Daly, who famously lost the mayoral chain (worth €10,000) on his watch when deputising for the mayor in December 2017, was asked by Hannon whether the people of Limerick could depend on him not to misplace any more Merchant’s Quay bling.

She took great pleasure in reminding him how he had left the chain of office in his car overnight when it was stolen.

With the television cameras now in his face, Cllr Daly was quick to deem himself an innocent victim of Limerick’s crime problem – and that his mayoral plans had a solution for that (presumably with ‘outlaw chain theft’ at the top of that list).

Green Party TD Brian Leddin was taken out to pasture on farming and whether he opposed one-off housing.

Labour Party’s Conor Sheehan, the youngest candidate running for the mayoral role (he reminded audiences for a second debate running), considered himself as the “grown up in the room” despite his youthful complexion. He was all about putting an end to people sleeping in doorways and stopping his generation emigrating due to the lack of homes.

Sinn Féin’s Maurice Quinlivan was firmly for developing the DEM role and being a “champion” for Limerick. Ballynanty’s very own Maximus Decimus Meridius vowed not only to be our gladiator for housing but for University Hospital Limerick also.

The Lime Tree Theatre played host to the RTÉ debate. Photo: Don Moloney.


Independent candidate John Moran, former Secretary General of the Finance Department under former Fine Gael minister Michael Noonan, did his best to convince a chuckling audience that he was never a member of a political party on any continent.

“Shame” came the cry from the audience when Moran, the former director of the European Investment bank, spoke about his role in bringing in foreign capital to fund housing during the last financial crash.

Another Independent candidate with a Fine Gael past just behind them, Helen O’Donnell spoke of establishing an “acceleration unit” to build houses.

Meanwhile, actual Fine Gael candidate Cllr Daniel Butler mapped out his commitment to deliver 2,000 affordable homes across the city and county over a five-year period.

Hannon raised an eyebrow as she quizzed People Before Profit candidate Ruairí Fahy about what he was even doing on the stage considering he believes “the legislation has delivered little more than shuffling the deck of existing powers and hiding the unelected executive further from accountability”.

Social Democrats councillor for City West, Elisa O’Donovan, said she wanted a fully staffed housing team to tackle homelessness, and Aontú’s Sarah Beasley highlighted plans to fight addiction and suicide in Limerick.

Rabarta’s Dr Laura Keyes, who was rushed to get her final speak in as the credits ran over her, said she wants to see people at the centre of decision-making.

Newly-crowned Frog Prince

Independent Colm Ó Móráin believes that we need public eyes on the council coffers around the clock. He wants the accounts live-streamed, prompting Hannon to ask if this wasn’t a little too ‘Big Brother house’.

The mayor might have no skin in the game when it comes to healthcare, but this didn’t deter Socialist Party candidate Caitríona Ní Chaitháin, who was staunchly for re-opening emergency departments in Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s hospitals.

Vegan Viking and newly-crowned Frog Prince Gerben Uunk, of the Party for Animal Welfare, was the panel’s voice for animals and students sleeping in their cars. He confessed to Hannon that he is against the Northern Distributor Road being built as he wants to see the Northside froggies hopping free.

It was a gripping night’s viewing and honestly I reckon Hannon should be sitting by the phone waiting for Aaron Sorkin to snap up the story rights.

With the candidates once again lined out for all to see, after last week’s debate (hosted by the Limerick Post, Limerick Chamber, and the Technological University of the Shannon), I couldn’t help but be put in mind of Abraham Lincoln’s words: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”