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Fine Gael look to future as doubt hang over councillors

DONEGAL Fine Gael have confirmed that selection conventions for next year’s local Council elections will be held before the end of January.
More than a dozen candidates are expected to put their names before party members over the coming weeks as Fine Gael looks to grow its representation on Donegal County Council.
At present, the party has six councillors across Donegal’s six municipal districts – down from a high of nine in the late eighties.
Sitting Glenties Electoral Area member Cllr Terence Slowey announced his retirement from politics this week while both Bernard McGuinness (Inishowen) and Ballyshannon-based representative Barry O’Neill are contemplating their futures.
With the party’s annual Árd Fheis taking place in Citywest Hotel, Saggart this weekend it gives members the opportunity to discuss a strategy ahead of next year’s local elections.
There is speculation that former Councillors John Boyle (Bruckless) and Noel McBride (Carrigart) will put their names forward for consideration while Joe Harley, a brother of Stranorlar based Councillor Martin Harley, has indicated a willingness to stand in the Donegal Municipal District.
Mr John McNulty is Fine Gael development officer in Donegal and the Kilcar man has been tasked with trying to win a second seat in the constituency for the party.
Four years ago, he was appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) – a position he held for just 13 days – in a bid to boost his credentials ahead of a Seanad by-election. The controversy resulted in Fine Gael losing a Seanad seat that it should have comfortably held.
Speaking to the Donegal News yesterday, Thursday, Mr McNulty confirmed that up to a dozen candidates have indicated that they are putting their names forward.
Joe McHugh
The recent appointment of Joe McHugh as Minister for Education and Skills is expected to give the party a boost ahead of the local elections.
“Our first aim in next year’s local elections will be to retain the six seats we already hold and, hopefully, add to that number.
“In 2014 the country was in a different place. Some candidates were stepping over men digging out water meters on the canvass while cuts were being made to medical cards. It was a tough, hard campaign for Fine Gael.
“The country is in a much better place today,” Mr McNulty said.
“With ongoing uncertainty over Brexit I don’t think there’s any real appetite out there for a general election and, as a result, the local elections become the next big focus,” he added.
The party’s development officer confirmed that John Boyle and Noel McBride, who lost their seats in 2014, were looking to put their names forward for election.
“Unless the names are put before the party, nominated and selected at convention they’re not candidates,” he warned.
However, with Cllr Terence Slowey confirming that he will not run next year it is known that fellow Ardara resident Eamon Byrne is the party’s preferred candidate to take his place.
Co-opted to the Council in May 2001 following the untimely passing of Charlie Bennett, Cllr Slowey was Cathaoirleach in 2016.
“It was a dream come true but I’m sixty-seven now and I feel it’s time to move on. I’m hoping to put forward Eamon Byrne’s name to convention. He’s very much involved in the local community,” Cllr Slowey said.
Falcarragh’s Michael Mc Clafferty, who ran as an independent in 2014, is also being linked with Fine Gael in the Glenties MD.
In Letterkenny, Cllr Jimmy Kavanagh has confirmed that he will seek another term but it remains unclear who else will be on the ticket. The name of local businessman Charlie McClafferty, who has contested elections under the Finn Gael banner in the past, has been mooted although he stood as an independent last time out.
Former councillor Noel McBride and Grace Boyle ran alongside Kavanagh in 2014 in the ten-seat Letterkenny MD. That has since been reduced to 7 seats, with three going to Milford MD.
Twin Towns businessman, Cllr Martin Harley, will run in the Stranorlar MD while Bert Galbraith, his running partner in ‘14, hasn’t ruled out the possibility of going again.
Bernard McGuinness
Cllr Mickey Doherty, co-opted in place of Cllr John Ryan in July, will be joined by Michelle McKenna in south Inishowen while the party are looking for Cllr Bernard McGuinness to run in north Inishowen.
“I’ll be entering my fortieth year on the Council next year and I honestly don’t know if I can keep it going. I’m seventy-five and will have a long, hard think about my future in the coming weeks,” Cllr McGuinness said.
In the Donegal MD Cllr Barry O’Neill is also unsure what the future holds. Should he decide to run it’s likely that former councillor John Boyle and Frosses man, Joe Harley – brother of Cllr Martin Harley – will look to be included on the Fine Gael ticket.

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