Cllr Declan McDonnell will stand in the 2009 Local Elections as an Independent candidate in Galway City East, bringing to an end weeks of speculation as to whether or not he would join Fianna Fáil.
As the end drew near for the PDs, it was widely known that Dep Noel Grealish was interested in joining Fianna Fáil. Furthermore it was felt that if he went, councillors Declan McDonnell and Jim Cuddy would follow. After Brian Lenihan jr’s ill-conceived ‘hurt the vulnerable and protect the rich’ Budget everything changed.
Fianna Fáil suddenly became political poison, plummeting in the polls. Dep Grealish backed off and Fianna Fáil’s plans to have Dep Grealish as it’s third Galway West TD and Cllr McDonnell as it’s Galway City East candidate alongside Cllr Mary Leahy and Cllr Michael J Crowe were in ruins.
The economic ineptitude of the present Government and the poisonousness of any association with it, has convinced Cllr McDonnell that he would be better of running as an Independent candidate next June.
“My decision is to go Independent,” Cllr McDonnell told the Galway Advertiser this week. “There is a downturn in the economy but the Budget was not handled in a practical way or a PR way and it hit the old and the young.”
One of Cllr McDonnell’s chief complaints against Budget 09 was its controversial education cuts. He said the reduction in teacher numbers will have a devastating effect on school children, both native and non-national.
“The girls’ school in Mervue is losing five teachers and one special needs assistant,” he said. “There are 183 non-national children in the school. How are we going to be able to help them if adequate teaching services are not in place at an early stage?”
He said if those 183 children were spread across the other classes in the school it would “cause widespread disruption” for the non-national children “who will have difficulty understanding” and their Irish classmates. He added that in Renmore and Ballinfoyle parents and teachers are concerned about the same issues.
He was also unimpressed with the fiasco of the Government’s handling of the medical card for the over 70s. He feels the income tax levies imposed by Budget 09 are not “sending out the right message” in that those on lower wages are being taxed too much and those on higher wages are not having to pay enough tax.
For these reasons Cllr McDonnell felt going Independent was the right move as it gives him the “freedom to speak my mind”.
Galway City East is one of the most competitive wards in the city, especially now it has been reduced from seven seats to six. Fine Gael and Labour know they must take a second seat here if they want to be the largest party in City Hall; Fianna Fáil Cllr Michael J Crowe and former PD, now Independent Cllr Terry O’Flaherty know they have a fight on their hands to keep their seats - and they won’t go quietly.
Cllr McDonnell faces into the next election as an Independent. Independents, unlike party candidates have no party HQ behind them. No one to look after the printing and expense of posters. No running mates to have pacts with or to be sure of transfers from.
Although he is widely tipped to retain his seat, Cllr McDonnell knows that for all the above mentioned reasons, he faces a tougher challenge than ever before.
“It’s not going to be simple,” he says. “There is an anger out there and even past association with the Government parties could hurt you but I believe it is your record on the ground that will get you elected and I believe that people will vote for me based on my record.
“I have delivered €1 million for the crèche in Mervue which is now a landmark building in the area which created 14 jobs and is run by a great volunteer committee. I also delivered the site for the Credit Union; and well over €1.5 million in amenity grants for Mervue Utd. They know I’m trying to get rat-running out of Mervue. I also have good working relationships with Government ministers. I’m also trying to ensure Mervue School does not lose the five teachers. I’m in talks with the Minister and I’m very hopeful of a solution.”
Cllr McDonnell says housing, infrastructure, park and ride, the environment, and amenities for children and the youth will be the key issues in Election 09.
“We have to improve the traffic flow in the city,” he says. “There are 2,000 people on the housing waiting list and providing social and affordable housing is the way forward. Health and jobs will be important but councillors cannot do much on them as they are Governmental issues. Nonetheless we will continue to make representations to try and provide solutions.”