No ‘ga-ga’ promises from Labour’s Conor Sheehan

Labour Party candidate Conor Sheehan offers a fresh start. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

THE LABOUR Party’s mayoral candidate for Limerick, Conor Sheehan, says he is standing in the mayoral contest as a fresh young voice to represent his county. The City North representative believes it’s time for a fresh start and time for change.

The Limerick Post met up with the 31-year-old councillor at City Hall recently as he made a case for a strong, young, energetic, enthusiastic mayor to stand up for the county.

Cllr Sheehan has worked tirelessly in his council work since his election in 2019. His journey into politics, he tells me, stems from a deep-seated belief that everyone in Limerick deserves a voice at the table, particularly the economically disadvantaged and those who have struggled because of the housing crisis.

He now wants to be the voice at the top table for people who have suffered on foot of the economic and housing crisis. Conor’s pledge, he says, is to be the “mayor for Housing”.

For many people Cllr Sheehan’s age in Limerick, the legitimate aspiration to work hard, save, and eventually buy their own home is slipping away. He says he is standing in this election because he wants to put in place a mayoral programme to deliver the homes Limerick needs.

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“Housing is my number one priority. Housing has been the civil rights issue of our generation. If you look at the individual who has a house, and who owns their own home, and if you look at the approved wealth of an individual who doesn’t, and you look at the disparity that’s there, that will give you an idea because there’s two Limerick’s,” he said.

Alan Jacques speaking to Cllr Conor Sheehan on the campaign trail. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

‘A Limerick of halves’

Cllr Sheehan believes there’s a “Limerick of halves”.

“There’s a Limerick that’s booming and there’s a Limerick that’s not,” he says.

“As a councillor, I represent Limerick City North, which in my view is the best and most diverse electoral area, but it also has huge poverty deprivation.

“We have St Mary’s Park, we have Moyross, even areas like Garryowen, areas that need more attention. It’s the same in the county. There’s pockets of Rathkeale and Newcastle West as well, so I think it is the mayor’s role to level up these communities to make sure dereliction isn’t an issue. I mean, the biggest landlord in the city and county is the council.”

The new mayor, Cllr Sheehan explains, will have the responsibility for preparing and delivering the housing program for Limerick. The role, he continued, will also oversee the Limerick Development Plan.

“The Council is the biggest landlord in Limerick, so we need to make sure that the council clamps down on vacant local authority homes. There are far too many of them.”

Labour Party DEM candidate Conor Sheehan. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

I’m not making absolutely ga-ga promises

The young Labour candidate says he “would like to see over the five years of the mayor’s term is Limerick becoming a void-free city, and I think that’s doable”.

“I’m not making absolutely ga-ga promises, like talking about buying Barringtons and turning it into a standalone A&E, that’s not what I am about. I’m about what’s realistic and what’s deliverable,” he tells me, in a clear dig at the recent statements of one of his fellow candidates.

“I think, for example, what we need to do is, one, to make sure we have enough zoned land, and two, we need to put more residential units into the Opera site. We need to hold the LDA (Land Development Agency) to account about the Colbert Quarter.”

Cllr Sheehan firmly believes Limerick’s first directly-elected mayor needs to go back to the Housing Minster and get the proper resources from the commercial State-sponsored body, claiming that the LDA currently has just one staff member in Limerick.

“We need to see that the LDA have the team that they need to put a planning application in to develop that site. There’s 1100 units there that could be unlocked. I think Limerick could become a void-free city within five years. I think that is very deliverable.”

Alan Jacques speaking to Cllr Conor Sheehan on the campaign trail. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

‘I have been an active and engaged councillor’

The Labour man is passionate about Limerick and believes the county can do better. His vision is to make Limerick the best place in Ireland to work, live, and raise a family.

“Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have controlled Limerick council for over 10 years. They have had their day. It’s time now for change,” he says.

And while being young and energetic, Cllr Sheehan also makes the point that he brings experience too after five years as a councillor.

“By any objective measurement, I have been an active and engaged councillor. I mean, one or two have thrown the hat into the ring in relation to this and I haven’t seen them at council meetings in years,” he hits out.

“I haven’t seen a motion ever or a question and I just think, if you want to be the mayor, it’s a position of leadership, first and foremost. So, in the position that you have, whether you are a councillor, whether you are an activist, whatever, you have to show leadership and I think I have done that.

“I’m always actively engaged at meetings. I go to meetings physically as often as I possibly can. I think that’s really important to actually show up in the chamber and show the chamber that level of respect.

“It’s grand turning up every five years and saying ‘I’ve done this, I’ve done that, I’ve done the other’, but it’s important to show people that you have a work record.”

‘Millionaires swanning in thinking they can buy the mayoralty’

The Labour man also raised concerns about candidates without the working knowledge or lived experience of local government vying for the mayoral hot seat.

“We have a long history of good mayors in Limerick. My slight concern with this directly-elected mayor is that we’ve taken a situation whereby previously you could of had for example Jim Kemmy, he was the mayor, he was a stonemason, Mick Lipper was mayor, he was a train driver. Jan O’Sullivan was the mayor. Maria Byrne was the mayor. You had what I would call working class or middle class people, I’m standing as one of those people.

“One of the things I see as a concern with this mayor is that I see these business types running, I see some of them as millionaires swanning in and thinking that they can almost buy the mayoralty. The mayoralty is the preserve of the people of Limerick. You’re the first citizen, you’re the first among equals, and I think the mayor should come from the people.”