By the time the votes are all counted on Saturday and the people's verdict read out Mayo will be returning four deputies to the 32nd Dáil, one fewer than five years ago and two fewer than the county returned 24 years ago when the 27th Dáil was elected. From 1997 on Mayo was reduced to a single constituency as the old Mayo West and Mayo East constituencies were merged, and from 2016 on a large swathe of south Mayo has been subsumed into Galway West. With it in the region of 7,000 votes have gone south of the border and with them sitting Mayo TD John O'Mahony who is looking to take a seat in a battle royale that many observers expect to go on long into Sunday and maybe later before the final shake-out in that particular battle is decided.
Back in the count centre in Castlebar, three of the four seats look to be nailed on and generally accepted by most observers, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister of State Michael Ring, and Deputy Dara Calleary all expected to retain their seats and get over the line in the early counts. The one talking point that has emerged over the last few weeks is which of the Fine Gael TDs will top the poll, with Michael Ring in with a very good shout of getting over the line before his boss does. Last time out Kenny romped home with 17,472 first preference votes, 5,000 and change more than the quota, with Ring having almost 1,500 to spare over the required amount himself on the first count. The chances of the two Fine Gael heavyweights having that sort of loose change in their pockets this time is very slim.
The returning of four Fine Gael seats even on the back of fierce anti-government sentiment at the time was a great vote management operation and they will be hoping for something similar this time around if they are going to hold on to their three sitting TDs. Last time out Michelle Mulherin TD came third in the first preference votes, getting 8,851 number ones to her name, but it was the surplus of Kenny and Ring that saw her and O'Mahony over the line. Of the 6,562 votes over the quota that both Kenny and Ring received, 4,103 of them went to their running mates, 2,259 to Mulherin and 1,844 to O'Mahony.
Conway-Walsh has been building to this
However things will be much different this time around with the final seat expected to be a battle between the incumbent Dep Mulherin, Sinn Féin's Cllr Rose Conway Walsh, and Fianna Fáil's Cllr Lisa Chambers. Both Chambers and Conway-Walsh contested the the 2011 election with Conway Walsh coming home with 2,660 first preference votes, though it must be remembered that Sinn Féin ran a two person ticket in 2011 with Cllr Therese Ruane also having 2,142 first preference votes. So if the hardcore Sinn Féin vote transfers over to Cllr Conway Walsh she should have a base of around 5,000 votes before she builds on that core vote. In the 2014 local elections Cllr Conway Walsh topped the poll in West Mayo with 2,075 first preference votes and was elected on the first count. She has been an impressive contributor in her time in the county council and has been building a promising reputation in Sinn Féin over the past number of years. The late entry of former TD Jerry Cowley could cause her headaches as both come from the same neck of the woods, and the popularity in the area of Minister of State Michael Ring could also be a hindrance to her. In the last general election she took in the region of 1,500 first preference votes in the Erris boxes, something that she'll be looking to much improve on this time around, and with a wave of anti-government sentiment in the air this time again she could really capitalise on that. She also has a very good organisation in the east of the county with both Cllr Gerry Murray and John Sheehan working on the ground for her in Charlestown and Swinford respectively.
Chambers continues to make big leaps
Lisa Chambers' rise through the ranks of Fianna Fáil could take a major leap again this weekend if she manages to take a seat in the Dáil. The barrister took the proverbial one for the team last time out, running for Fianna Fáil when others wouldn't. She performed remarkably well for an unknown candidate who only entered the race a few weeks before the election and received 3,343 first preference votes. Since then she's hit the ground running and in the 2014 local elections she had 1,478 number ones, just 233 votes off the quota on the first count. Since then she has become a powerful figure for the party at council level and her star in the party has continued to rise and has been seen alongside party leader Micheal Martin on a number of occasions at major events. Chambers will be looking to seriously up her return of number one votes in the Castlebar area where she gained just around the 1,000 mark in 2011, but with plenty of criticism leveled at An Taoiseach locally she can expect to pick up votes there. Last time around she also had to contend with the presence of Independent Cllr Michael Kilcoyne fishing from the same pool in the Castlebar area and he had over 2,500 votes in that area — Chambers will be expecting to sweep up a number of those votes. In the 2014 locals Chambers also did very well in the Kiltimagh area which was taken into the Castlebar Municipal District and with that area and Claremorris in her territory for Fianna Fáil she could really pick up the extra votes she'll need.
Mulherin looks to maintain her position
For Mulherin to hold on to her seat, she'll be hoping that she gets the same level of support in the Ballina area as she did last time; in 2011 she pulled just shy of 6,000 votes from that area and remarkably also received over 1,000 from Castlebar. She will be hoping that she can manage something similar this time and, without John O'Mahony running in the east of the county, she will be expecting to see the Fine Gael voters in that area row in behind her and give her an extra boost, with O'Mahony leaving over 7,000 votes in the Swinford and Claremorris areas behind him since he moved to Galway West.
The battle for the last seat will be a nerve-wracking one for all three candidates. The power of transfers will have a big part to play in it once the boxes are opened and, while the bookies have Mulherin as the slight favourite to hold on to her seat, the ground game over the final few weeks of the election could have seen the goalposts shift a little and don't be surprised if we see a new TD representing Mayo when the Dáil reconvenes in March.