ONCE regarded as an eccentric no-hoper, nobody is now underestimating the chances of Luke 'Ming' Flanagan in the General Election.
He may style himself on the bad guy from a comic strip and promote cannabis use -- but the meteoric rise in recent times of the political career of councillor Mr Flanagan has the major parties all looking over their shoulder.And they should be worried.
Laughed off as a joke candidate when he first stood for election in 1997, he has found his way to become one of the most successful local councillors in the country.
Last June, he swept to the top position in his native county when he was elected mayor of Roscommon. Now he wants one of the three seats on offer in the Roscommon-South Leitrim constituency.
Given that the Roscommon constituency has never returned the same three TDs in successive General Elections, the odds are on a surprise when voters finally get their say. Mr Flanagan aims to be it.
None of them will rest easy knowing that the Castlerea-based mayor is pursuing a seat in the Dail. From a mere 548 votes when he stood in Galway West in 1997, Mr Flanagan went on to pick up 5,000 votes in Connacht- Ulster in the 1999 Euro elections. He polled 779 first preferences in Longford-Roscommon in 2002, before topping the poll with 1,050 votes in the Castlerea electoral area in the 2004 local elections.
Last time out in the extended Castlerea-Ballaghadereen area, he again strolled home with 1,556 votes.
He showed he had learned his political lessons well by throwing in his lot with Fine Gael and Hospital Action Committee councillors last June to take the mayoral chain -- to the dismay of Fianna Fail.
He also cut, voluntarily, his allowances to save the county money.
He has taken a 50pc cut in his formal mayoral allowance, a similar cut in his travel allowance and 100pc cuts in his foreign travel and conference allowances. And he wants the President, Taoiseach, ministers, other mayors and heads of government bodies to follow suit.
The armchair politicos reckon he will face a dogfight with the equally impressive Labour councillor John Kelly.
Whichever of them stays ahead in the early counts should benefit from the exit of the other. Realistically, the third seat will be the target.
"If I'm good enough to be mayor, I'm good enough to be one of the people's representatives in the Dail," Mr Flanagan said.