00:00 Saturday 20 November 2010  Written by Leo McMahon

Political change for West Cork

A MAJOR change in the political make-up of Cork South West will result when Fine Gael takes the unprecedented step of holding a declaration convention at the Parkway Hotel, Dunmanway, on Saturday, November 27th, because the name of outgoing Deputy Jim O'Keeffe is missing from the list of prospective candidates papers for the first time in over three decades.

In a telephone interview with The Southern Star on Monday, Mr O'Keeffe confirmed that he is not seeking re-election to Dail Eireann. 'After 33 years, I have decided to call it a day, it's time to move on' he said. 'I had been considering this for some time and informed party leader Enda Kenny about this, but I feel that I can continue to perform a useful role for the party in other ways while moving off frontline politics'.

Aged 69, Jim O'Keeffe was born in Skibbereen. He was educated at St. Fachtna's High School, Skibbereen; University College Cork; UCD and the Incorporated Law School of the Incorporated Law Society. He practised as a solicitor before entering public office and being elected to Skibbereen Urban District Council.

O'Keeffe was first elected to the 21st Dáil at the 1977 general election as a Fine Gael TD for Cork South West and retained his seat at the next nine elections, the most recent being to the 30th Dail in 2007. He and his wife Maeve, who reside in Bandon, have one son and seven daughters.

Minister of State

Ireland's second longest serving TD (after Enda Kenny), he served as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Minister of State at the Department of Finance and the Public Service under An Taoiseach Dr Garret Fitzgerald. He has held numerous Opposition Front Bench portfolios including Foreign Affairs; Social, Community and Family Affairs; Social Welfare; Agriculture and Health; and Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

In 1996-97, he was the first chair of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution and currently vice-chairperson, and sits on the important Public Accounts Committee. He was also a founder member of the British and Irish Inter Parliamentary Assembly and is current chairman of its Sovereignty Committee.

Briefly reflecting on over one third of a century as a public representative, Mr O'Keeffe said he would never forget his term as Ireland's first Minister of State for Overseas Aid in the mid-1980s when he saw at first hand the horrific conditions being endured by the starving people of Ethiopia which led him to organize the first major European Union aid package for the region and other development proposals.

In the Oireachtas, he contributed to all debates on major legislation, particularly those directly affecting Cork South West and moved a number of private member's bills, most recently, introducing the Fisheries Amendment Bill which placed minor fisheries offences on a non criminal basis and helped reduce much bureaucracy.

'At all times, I have worked for the local community,' said Mr O'Keeffe who mentioned in particular the delivery, while he was a member of Fine Gael in Coalition Government, of the €15 million West Cork (Bantry) Package and the Clonakilty Coastal Resort Scheme

'I am glad and privileged to have worked for the benefit of constituents in Cork South West and very satisfied to have been able to lend an ear and help them to deal with all the bureaucracy and red tape but spending most of my political career as a member of the Opposition was frustrating'.

Utterly dismayed

As for the current economic recession and overall state of the nation, the veteran politician commented: 'I am utterly dismayed at the situation we find ourselves in as a result of

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the reckless behaviour by so many people, especially by those in government, the banks and regulation sector on whom the population relied and were entitled to rely on.

'We have two options. We can bow under it or we can fight our way out. I have great hope and confidence in the Irish people to do the latter but it's going to require a cleaning out of the stables and a new mandate for the people,' Mr O'Keeffe added.

The Cork South West Fine Gael declaration convention to establish who will go before the convention proper has been fixed for November 27th in Dunmanway with the main convention provisionally set for early in the new year.  However, this could well change should an early election be forced on the Government.

In a statement, Fine Gael said it was well known that a number of people are willing to go forward, so the preliminaries on November 27th should clear the air on the intentions of all concerned. It will also make the main convention more straightforward, because the party now has a membership of more 1,200 in the constituency and voting would otherwise be quite drawn out.

Meanwhile, speaking from his office in Leinster House on Tuesday, PJ Sheehan, TD, said: 'This is Jim's week and I will not be making any comment about whether I will be seeking re-election for the moment'. Elected to the county council in 1967, next year will mark 30 years in the Dail for Mr Sheehan, who paid tribute to Jim O'Keeffe, saying they had an excellent working relationship for 30 years

There's no shortage of names which may be put forward for the Fine Gael Cork SW declaration convention. These could include Cork County Mayor Jim Daly, Clonakilty; county councillors Kevin Murphy, Kinsale; Noel Harrington, Castletownbere; Veronica Neville, Bandon; Mary Hegarty, Bantry; deputy county mayor John O'Sullivan, Courtmacsherry, and chairman of the recently formed Bandon-Kinsale FG district executive Tim Cowhig.

Should PJ Sheehan, TD, not decide to seek re-election, his son and county councillor Dermot from Goleen, is also likely to seek to be a candidate.

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