A COUNCILLOR who shot to prominence by campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis is to become the new mayor of Roscommon town.
Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan (independent), who represents Castlerea on Roscommon County Council, is the agreed candidate of a new coalition of councillors which has scuppered the Fianna Fail stranglehold on the council.
The new coalition was formed in direct response to what is seen as the “downgrading” of Roscommon Hospital.
Health Minister Mary Harney has confirmed that Roscommon Hospital will no longer operate as a stand-alone facility. She said that integrating its services with those at University Hospital in Galway — the major acute centre in the West — was the best way forward.
While the minister has insisted that the people of Roscommon will benefit from having the best possible medical expertise available through the Galway hospital, there are now fears for the future of A&E and other services in Roscommon.
Since last year’s local elections, Fianna Fail had held sway in the county council with the support of a diverse group of independents, Labour Party and Sinn Fein councillors. But when it emerged that the Fianna Fail councillors were unable to give satisfactory assurances on the future of the hospital, a new Hospital Coalition was formed.
The diverse group has now thrown in its lot with Fine Gael and controls the majority of the 26 votes on the council. A deal has been hammered out that will see Mr Flanagan take the mayoral chain next Monday.
Mr Flanagan confirmed an agreement had been reached by the new Hospital Coalition that would see him elected mayor next Monday. And he said that he still favoured the legalisation of cannabis. “I still hold my view and will hold my view on that … and I will be proved right,” he predicted.
A social campaigner, he began his political career by running unsuccessfully as an independent in Galway West in the 1997 General Election. He had a distinctive appearance by shaving his hair and styling his beard to resemble the character Ming the Merciless from the comic strip, ‘Flash Gordon’.
In 1999, he contested the European Parliament election in the Connacht-Ulster constituency without success.
He stood in Longford-Roscommon in the 2002 General Election, but failed to make an impact. But he made a spectacular breakthrough in the 2004 local elections, standing in his native Castlerea, winning a council seat on the first count.
He was re-elected in 2009, polling an impressive 17pc of first preferences.
By Brian McDonald