Sunday 21 July 2019

Keaney leaving politics

Sorcha Crowley

North Sligo Fine Gael Councillor Hubert Keaney is bowing out of local politics. The Manorhamilton native made the surprise announcement at the February meeting of Sligo County Council on Monday, just hours before the Fine Gael selection convention for the North Sligo constituency. "I'm not running tonight so I'm not going to be a county councillor after the elections next May," he told the room.

"There's never a good time to leave. I still have four months left. This is the end of something. I'm turning 55 in May, now is a good time to take stock of my life," he said.

Speaking to The Sligo Champion afterwards, the Rathcormac resident said a "myriad" number of reasons had prompted his decision.

"I've been thinking about it for a while. I've been a councillor for ten years, been very fortunate. Certainly from my activity in the Council you're aware I enjoy it and I'm not afraid to speak my mind in the Council but it is a frustrating thing.

"I'd be somewhat disillusioned with the way politics is going. It's become more of a celebrity chase. I think we're losing thinkers. And there's things I want to do which could conflict with politics and because when you're a politician, you're very much viewed first of all as a politician, associated with a political party and that colours people's opinion of you and I wanted to get away from that," he said.

There were just five councillors in the chamber when Cllr Keaney stood up before lunch to announce his decision.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Seamus Kilgannon was first to react: "I'm very disappointed Cllr Keaney has chosen not to contend. We didn't always agree but he always had the interests of his constituents at heart.

"You just have to look around Rathcormac and see what he's done. It's a credit to him and the local authority," he said.

Party colleague Cllr Dara Mulvey said he always found Cllr Keaney "extremely hard-working and a great man to ring if you were unsure about an issue.

"He has served the people of his area extremely well. Sligo as a county was always at the front of his mind. It's a sad day for this group here, we're small in numbers. I hope he doesn't leave politics completely," he added.

Sinn Fein Cllr Chris MacManus commended Cllr Keaney for always being a "straight talker". "You mightn't like what he says to you but he has to be commended for that. There was never any personalisation in politics," he said.

AAA Cllr Gino O'Boyle wished Cllr Keaney well in his retirement from politics while Independent Cllr Michael Clarke said he was "genuinely shocked" to hear Cllr Keaney had chosen not to fight the next local election.

"He brought banter to the table and he was great company," said Cllr Clarke.

Independent Cllr Declan Bree also expressed his surprise and disappointment at the news. He said Cllr Keaney was always "honest and hard-working and a straight talker."

"It's been a privilege to work alongside Cllr Keaney, above all else he was principled. He didn't speak out of both sides of his mouth. He defended the Government and his party and I respected him for doing that. He will be a loss to the area he represented and to Sligo," said Cllr Bree.

Sinn Fein Cllr Thomas Healy described Cllr Keaney as a "decent person" and a "true blue".

"You could always work with him. We had our tits and tats but he'll be a big loss to Fine Gael. It's a big mistake, I was hoping to be running against him and having the banter on the road but Cllr Keaney knows what's right for him and his family," he told the chamber.

Fianna Fail's Keith Henry said he was also very shocked and said Cllr Keaney was "very amiable to work with."

"No one could doubt your political loyalty to your party and we on this side of the room will miss the banter," he told Cllr Keaney.

"I'll certainly miss him and the banter," added Fianna Fail's Cllr Rosaleen O'Grady. "He is a true blue and defended Fine Gael. No matter how feisty he could get in the Council chamber it was gone when you went out. During estimate he was a great help to us. I'm very shocked," she said.

"I served on the Council for two terms with him. I wish him the very best of luck. I enjoyed being a colleague of yours. It went beyond party politics when he went out the door," she added.

Cathaoirleach of the Council, Cllr Martin Baker of Fianna Fáil said Cllr Keaney was a "tremendous politician" whose hard work will be missed into the future.

Chief Executive of the Council Ciaran Hayes thanked Cllr Keaney for his contribution and wished him well in the future.

Sligo Champion