LABOUR is fighting to win its first ever seat in Roscommon-South Leitrim and one of its biggest obstacles is a pro-cannabis campaigner who calls himself 'Ming the Merciless'.
Its chosen candidate is John Kelly, a Leeds United-supporting community welfare officer, who performed strongly as an independent in the last general election.
He said his job with the HSE had never been so chaotic and stressful due to the recession.
"You can't help someone who's in full-time employment and yet I see them in greater need than some people in full-time unemployment. I know people who hadn't a penny left at the end of their working week," he said.
But in the three-seater constituency, he is up against the colourful independent councillor Luke 'Ming the Merciless' Flanagan. He was canvassing in Ballinamore in Leitrim yesterday and talking about his plans to get the people of the constituency to drink more local beer.
He said there was €14.5m of beer sold in pubs locally every year -- yet that only included around 8,000 of the 160,000 pints produced in a brewery in Roscommon town. He also wants to get the constituency's €52m annual tourism revenue closer to Galway's €430m earnings.
But for his part, Mr Kelly secured two pledges from Labour's Eamon Gilmore when he joined Labour last year.
The first was that Labour would provide alternative bogs for turf-cutters forced to stop by an EU habitats directive and the second was that the party would not downgrade Roscommon Hospital.
The hospital is a big issue for all parties in the race, with a dedicated hospital action candidate. Fine Gael has also declared that it will oppose the HSE's plans to replace its 24-hour A&E service with an 8am to 8pm service. Its two sitting TDs, Denis Naughten and Frank Feighan, are seen as likely to retain their seats.
Fianna Fail was dealt a blow by the retirement of junior minister Michael Finneran and there was further chaos when his expected replacement, Cllr Rachel Doherty, pulled out of the selection convention last week. That was because a direction from headquarters to have just one candidate was over-ruled, with Cllr Gerry Kilrane (Leitrim) and Cllr Ivan Connaughton (Roscommon) selected instead.
Sinn Fein's candidate is Cllr Martin Kenny, who will hope to pick up significant support in his native Leitrim.
Cllr Gerry Kilrane
Cllr Ivan Connaughton
Denis Naughten TD
Frank Feighan TD
Cllr John Kelly
Cllr Martin Kenny
Cllr Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan
John McDermott (Roscommon
Hospital Action Committee)
Fine Gael achieved one of its big successes of the general election by taking two out of three seats through Denis Naughten and new TD Frank Feighan.
Fianna Fail’s Michael Finneran held on to his seat
But Leitrim lost its only TD in the Dail when Fianna Fail’s John Ellis failed to get elected.
VOTERS PER TD 21,189