It’s not easy to get elected to the county council.
Particularly in the Claremorris Electoral Area, where Mags Sheehan has set herself a tough task by putting her name forward.
She is running against seven outgoing county councillors while she’s a first-time runner and in her home patch of Kilmaine, she will be competing for the local vote with Independent Harry Walsh, who is bidding to claim back the seat he lost in 2009.
The Green Party candidate said it’s important for her party to have a presence on the local election ticket and she had her own reasons for going forward.
“I have a lot of strong beliefs and I feel like I do all the work anyway, in volunteering and working in the community with different groups. So maybe I could do it on the council,” she reasons. The family resource centre worker is not totally new to the world of politics either.
Husband John Carey ran for the Green Party in Mayo in the 2011 General Election.
“I did a lot of work on that campaign. Now that I’m running myself, I don’t have a wife to do all that work for me so it’s a bit tougher,” she says jokingly.
On the canvas in Kilmaine, the mother of six gets a warm reception from most.
“So tell me Mags, what do you stand for?” asks one gentleman.
“Well I’m anti-fracking,” she answers. Fracking - or hydraulic fracturing - is a controversial method of exracting natural gas from shale rock. It’s the first bullet point on Ms Sheehan’s electoral publicity material and she wants Mayo County Council to follow in the footsteps of Leitrim County Council and ban the practice here altogether.
“Anti-fracking?” he queries, a little disbelievingly. “There’s no fracking going on here.”
“Not here, no,” she concedes. “But in other areas they’re starting to issue licences so we need to be careful and keep an eye on it.”
Fracking aside, Ms Sheehan says one of her biggest motivations for running was to have a candidate who would put “women and families first”. She is one of only two female candidates in the area.
She is also passionate about social justice and human rights, animal welfare issues and sustainable environmental practices. She wants to fight discrimination against minorities, campaign for the rights of asylum seekers and for equality for people with disabilities.
When it comes to local issues, she is strongly against any plans to move LEADER funding away from the local development companies such as South West Mayo Development Company, which she vice chairs.
Having seen two of her own children emigrate, she wants to keep the importance of community and family at the heart of politics. “Times are really tough for families in rural areas,” she says. “As one older woman told me, ‘Skype is no substitute for grandchildren’. We have to find ways to revitalise our communities, and create the sustainable employment we need to bring our children home.”
A couple of doors down, she gets a very warm welcome from a lady she met while they were both volunteering with the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre.
She is assured she has a number one (because, the woman notes, Ms Sheehan “is not making promises you can’t keep like the others” ) and a handful of other residents in the housing estate make a similar pledge.
As a mum of six, working full-time and with limited resources for posters to remind people she’s in the running, it’s hard to get the word out. Canvassing can go a long way but without a big team behind her, a candidate can’t cover the entire electoral area. With just a fortnight to go to polling, it will be interesting to see if Ms Sheehan manages to let people know what she stands for, and if she does, will it appeal to the voters?