The process to nominate candidates for Fine Gael in Athlone for next year’s council elections descended into farce last week when it took nearly three and a half hours to deselect one candidate from five, despite his having reached the quota anyway.
Outgoing town councillor Alan Shaw was the sole recipient of bad news in a proportional representation vote-off amongst 240 members that was subject to branch, constituency, and national executive rulings.
However, Cllr Shaw may yet have his evident disappointment overruled, as each convention must be reviewed by the party’s national executive before adoption to ensure selection is in line with national policy.
The executive met on Tuesday (October 29 ) to consider this, but as of yesterday (October 31 ) no decision had been made.
“I’m not a gambling man, but if I was I’d put money on the fifth name [Shaw’s] being added to the ticket,” said another senior source.
The branch members of the new Athlone area gathered in the Sheraton hotel on Thursday evening (October 24 ) to decide on who would represent their party on the ballot sheets in next year’s local elections from county councillors Gabrielle McFadden, Mark Cooney, John Dolan, town councillor Alan Shaw, and newcomer Tom Farrell, brother-in-law of retiring Kilbeggan councillor Joe Flanagan.
In other circumstances, this would be a straightforward process, but with next year’s elections being decided from re-drawn areas for a smaller council, a steering committee under Dick O’Brien was set up by the constituency, and made a number of recommendations to the national executive.
Following the advice from the constituency Tom Farrell was selected unopposed as he is their only candidate in the rural north of the area.
Then, in line with a gender policy that Fine Gael hope to roll out for the next general election in which they plan to have at least 25 per cent female candidates, they also ruled Cllr McFadden be also thus selected.
This left what should have been a straight shoot-out between the remaining three, but branch rules decreed this be run under PR rather than a simple first-past-the-post vote.
However, they neglected to remove the two appointees from the process, and thus, under PR rules, the quota for selection was much lower than it should have been in a three-horse race and unsurprisingly, all three surpassed it.
Figures were not released by the party, nor has it been revealed whether the branch went for the top two, or began to count second preferences, but some sources have put the vote as “very close” .
When the result was eventually agreed upon at almost 11.30pm, Cllr Shaw, was not willing to speak to the press, but released a statement later in the week in which he stated: “As regards my work as a public representative it is business as usual and this will continue to be the case until at least May 2014. I was elected in 2009 for a 5 year term and continue to enjoy working extremely hard on behalf of the people of Athlone and South Westmeath”.
The party is to hold its selection meetings for the other two areas on November 8 (Mulllingar-Kilbeggan ), and November 28 (Mullingar-Coole ).