The longest-serving public representative in the State is on the campaign trail as he prepares to contest the local elections in the East Cork municipal district.
Cllr Noel Collins is a legend in many ways in local government.
He doesn’t have a mobile phone, doesn’t drive and continues to write letters on a rickety old typewriter which has some damage to its keys – often leading him to fill in the blank spaces with a biro.
And the long-standing Independent councillor will not be using social media to get his message across.
There’s no major party machine to back him up but he has a legion of friends who admire the charitable work he does behind the scenes, especially for the homeless and many of the more vulnerable in society, generally.
It would be a huge shock if he doesn’t top the poll in the Midleton electoral area and an even bigger one if he fails to get elected. Mr Collins, currently chairman of the municipal district, was first elected 52 years ago.
At the last local elections, he received 2,267 first preference votes, securing a seat on the first count. He was so far ahead of the pack that it wasn’t until the eighth count that anybody else got past the winning post.
Another firm favourite in the field is sitting councillor Michael Hegarty (FG) from Ladysbridge in the Castlemartyr area who is the second-longest serving councillor in Cork’s County Hall with 34 years unbroken service.
Along with Youghal-based outgoing councillor Mary Linehan-Foley, who is an Independent, the pair should also be joining Mr Collins in the council chamber next month.
Mr Hegarty has been returned at every council election since 1985 and is currently deputy leader of Fine Gael in County Hall. Meanwhile, current deputy mayor of the county, Ms Linehan-Foley was first elected onto Youghal Town Council in 1999.
Her father Paddy served on the county council for 43 years and she has inherited a powerful political machine in the area. Meanwhile, a pre-election surprise was Cllr Michael Ahern’s decision not to seek re-election.
The ex-junior minister had been co-opted onto the council in 2018 to replace Fianna Fáil’s Youghal-based Cllr Aaron O’Sullivan after the 30-year-old solicitor cited work commitments as his main reason for quitting as a local public representative.
However, Fianna Fáil will be hoping James O’Connor, one of the youngest candidates in the field, will do the business for them instead. He hails from a dairy farming family between Youghal and Killeagh.
The Trinity College undergraduate has a strong interest in politics and spent two years as an intern in Leinster House.
Sinn Féin, meanwhile, has a young person in its team. Cllr Danielle Twomey from Midleton has proved to be a worthy local politician after being co-opted to County Hall in 2016 after Sinn Féin’s Pat Buckley secured a Dáil seat in the Cork East constituency.
It’s expected Ms Twomey will poll well while SF is also confident a second candidate, Shane Neville, will be in the shake-up for a seat. He’s based in Youghal and the party is hoping vote management and the geographical spread between its candidates will augur well for two seats.
Neville, 46, is a former US marine who had been in business but now works in a warehouse.
At one stage Youghal had three Sinn Féin town councillors which aided Martin Hallinan, in 2004, being the first SF member to win a seat on the council since the 1920s.
Cllr Susan McCarthy from Midleton, meanwhile, is also confident of retaining a FG seat while the town’s Labour candidate, Eric Nolan, will have to significantly improve on his 2014 tally of 338 to be in the running.
Other hopefuls include Rosarrii Griffin (FF) from Midleton who works as a lecturer in disabilities at UCC and FG’s John Phillips from Youghal who manages a bar and restaurant.
The East Cork Municipal District has seen its population increase by more than 3,000 since the 2016 census. It has led the council to increase the number of seats on offer from six to seven.
Unlike a number of other districts, the local election boundary remains unchanged.