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Runners and riders: Here's who's vying to take Ming's old seat in the upcoming by-election

Turfcutter Michael Fitzmaurice is emerging as the Ming-backed candidate, while the main parties are also busy making preparations ahead of the contest…

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan
Luke 'Ming' Flanagan
Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

THERE’S BEEN SOME action on the ground in Roscommon-South Leitrim in the last few weeks, as local politicians draw up their plans for the upcoming by-election and begin to compete to fill that Luke’ Ming’ Flanagan-shaped hole in Irish politics.

The outspoken Independent’s poll-topping performance in the European elections last May meant he automatically vacated his Dáil seat in the constituency.

That, of course, means a by-election’s on the way in the next few months — either shortly before or shortly after the mid-October budget.

As the Oireachtas observes its summer recess — speculation’s now gathering pace in the constituency on who’s likely to throw their hat in the ring, and whether a Ming-endorsed candidate will triumph…

The constituency

Roscommon-South Leitrim, a three seater-constituency, elected two Fine Gael candidates at the last general election, in addition to Ming.

One of those TDs has since parted company with the party however: Denis Naughten lost the whip in protest over the Government’s decision to close the Roscommon County Hospital Emergency Department just months after the coalition came to power.

In spite of having next-to-no chance of gaining the Flanagan seat, Fine Gael is still likely to run a candidate this time out, if only as a profile-raising exercise.

So who’s definitely running?

Ivan Connaughton, an Athleague-based councillor and auctioneer has been selected as the Fianna Fáil candidate.

Connaughton, who narrowly missed out on a seat in the 2011 general election, beat out competition from rival councillor Eugene Murphy at a selection convention last month.

 Ivan Connaughton/Twitter

So far, there’s just one other candidate definitely running: 22 year-old Strokestown-based Independent Emmett Corcoran. The young entrepreneur launched his campaign on social media this week.

Corcoran, who set up the wannawork.ie site in an effort to get people back to work, told Shannonside radio on Friday that his main focus would be securing jobs for rural areas of the constituency.

The almost definites…

Michael Fitzmaurice, the Chairman of campaign group the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, has emerged as the Ming-endorsed candidate for the contest.

While his official line is that he expects “to make decision in the next few weeks” it’s considered all but certain his name will be on the ballot paper.

Fitzmaurice was recently elected as a councillor in Tuam — but that doesn’t necessarily mean campaigning in Roscommon-South Leitrim would hamper his long-term ambition of securing a Dáil seat: the area is to be absorbed into the new constituencies of Roscommon-Galway and Sligo-Leitrim at the next general election, so even a losing bid for the seat would help build a profile.

Michael Fitzmaurice [michaelfitzmaurice.ie]

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Fitzmaurice said that “in GAA, your ambition is always Croke Park — so in politics, of course my ambition would be for the Dáil”.

He insisted, however, he had yet to decide on whether to run this time out or wait for the next election.

The councillor said he had been in regular contact with Flangan since the MEP’s election to Brussels — while, for his part, Ming is on the record as saying he would relish the prospect of Fitzmaurice replacing him in the Dáil.

Elsewhere, former Mayor and Independent Roscommon Councillor Tom Crosby also says he’s giving a bid ‘serious consideration’. Officially, he says he’s meeting campaigners and making his mind up — but the general consensus in Roscommon is that he’ll also be on the ballot.

The main parties…

For Labour, Senator John Kelly, who ran last time out, is seriously thinking about another bid.

Speaking to this website back in May, Kelly said that he hadn’t been planning to run, but was reconsidering following Eamon Gilmore’s decision to step down as leader.

The latest word from the Senator is that he might not run for the party unless new Health Minister Leo Varadkar considers the ‘feasability’ of fully reopening the Emergency Department at Roscommon.

For Fine Gael, the consensus among members in the area appears to be that Maura Hopkins, a Young Fine Gael activist and first-time candidate who claimed a council seat for the party in Boyle in May, is ideally placed to run.

Though some party figures have admitted privately that FG hasn’t a chance of winning the contest, the campaign would provide a good opportunity to ‘blood’ a relatively new political personality over the wider area.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Hopkins said she hadn’t made her mind up, but was “strongly considering” her options and expected to make a decision “in the next week or two”.

The selection convention for the party is expected to be held in early September.

Maura Hopkins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny [@hopkins_maura]

The situation, finally, in Sinn Féin appears a little uncertain at this stage.

Leitrim-based councillor Martin Kenny — who narrowly lost out to Matt Carthy in the bid to become the party’s MEP candidate in Midlands-North West — looks unlikely to run, considering the upcoming boundary change.

One SF member said the party was likely to follow the same strategy its pursuing in the Dublin South West by-election, and select a female candidate.

Runners and riders update: Here’s who’s vying to take Brian Hayes’ vacant Dáil seat

Related: Ming: No, I won’t send a replacement to Brussels

 

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