Fine Gael now look to fill vacant county and town council seats
VEC seat could be problematic
By Colm Gannon
Fresh from celebrating the election of Michelle Mulherin to the Dáil the members of the Ballina district of the Fine Gael party will have to get voting again very soon. Because of her election, the party now has vacancies to fill on both Mayo County Council and Ballina Town Council. Ordinarily a vacant seat is filled by co-opting a Fine Gael candidate who missed out on getting elected to the county council last time. However the Fine Gael vote managment in the 2009 local elections was so good that all their candidates in the Ballina electoral area were elected to the county council.
Sean Newcombe, who ran for the county council in 2004 and was Michelle Mulherin’s campaign manager for last week’s election, has put his name forward along with the two sitting Ballina town councillors, Mark Winters and Barry McLoughlin. Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser this week, Newcombe said he was defiantly in the running. “I have put my name forward for the seat for the county council and I would be hopeful that I would get it,” he said.
“I would be able to give the time to be a full time public representative for the people of Ballina as I have retired from work,” said the 63-year-old. “I put my name forward before in 2004 along with Michelle when we tried to get two seats in the town, but I didn’t get in but she did.” As to whether he put his name in the hat for the town council also, Newcombe said that he did not think he would. “I don’t think that I will be putting forward my name for that because there has been a precedent set before that; if a seat came up and there was a defeated candidate for that from the party they would be given the first refusal on it. In the town council Brian Martin ran and he didn’t get elected so if they go with the precedent that has been set then he should get the seat there.”
Fine Gael are scheduled to have a special convention on March 13 in the Ballina area to fill the seats, and a special meeting of Mayo County Council is scheduled to be held on March 14 to approve the co-option of the new member to the council in time to allow the new councillor to have a vote in the upcoming Seanad elections.
While the filling of the town council and county council seats will be a simple internal matter for the party, the filling of the vacancy left by Mulherin on Mayo VEC will be a controversial one. The issue of the parties’ appointments to the VEC has been a thorny issue since the local elections in 2009. When Castlebar town councillor Noreen Heston resigned from VEC in 2010, she was replaced by former town councillor Kevin Guthrie on the committee. However due to the gender balance requirements on the VEC Cllr Heston should have been replaced by a woman. To get over the impasse, Fine Gael councillor Gerry Coyle resigned his seat on the committee and was replaced by Mulherin. With the seat having to be filled by a woman, it leaves Fine Gael in a predicament, with Mulherin no longer being a county councillor they now have no female elected members of Mayo County Council.