It was widely expected that the eight seats in the Ballina area would be some of the most hotly contested in the county and that was certainly the case in the count centre in the TF Royal Theatre Hotel, Castlebar, over the weekend.
A heavy ticket boasting 18 candidates, a recount, a marathon all-night contest, and a nail bitingly tight finish to fill the last seat, combined to make this election one that will not be forgotten for some time to come.
That electoral area was one of the last to be decided in the country when the final result came in at around 7.30am on Monday, deeming John O’Hara (FG ); Seamus Weir (Ind ); Annie May Reape (FF ); Jarlath Munnelly (FG ); Gerry Ginty (Ind ); Michael Loftus (FF ); Michael Smyth (FF ); and Neil Cruise (FG ) elected.
O’Hara, Weir, May Reape, Munnelly, Ginty, and Loftus all exceeded the quota of 1,813 votes while Smyth and Cruise were deemed elected on 1,523 and 1,510 respectively.
John Sheahan (SF ) was well in the battle for the eighth seat right up to the last count with not even a dozen votes between him and Cruise in the 10th count and heading into the dying rounds of the competition. However, in the penultimate count, in the distribution of elected Loftus’ 287 surplus, Cruise gained 96 to Sheahan’s 34 and the margin widened sufficiently to call a result after Ginty’s surplus of 33 was divvied out.
Sheahan eventually finished with 1,453 to Cruise’s 1,510.
Sheahan did call for a full recount immediately after, to which returning officer John Condon acceded. However, after a discussion with Mr Condon and another look at the figures in his camp, that recount request was withdrawn on Monday afternoon and the Ballina result stood.
Three new members will join Mayo County Council out of the Ballina area – Smyth, Cruise, and Loftus.
Although Smyth looked well on to take the seventh seat as the conclusion of the Ballina count drew nearer and nearer, his team must have been thinking back to Swinford and 2009 and praying it would not be a case of déjà vu; when in the small hours of the morning, in another down to the wire fight, Smyth just lost out.
But not this time. Over in his hometown, Joe Mellet (FG ) was instead a casualty of this election and Smyth will now take up the reins in representing the town’s interests on Mayo County Council.
Gerry Ginty made sure the fears that Ballina town might have no councillor in the new Mayo County Council did not materialise. He exceeded the quota in the 11th count.
In that count too, Michael Loftus from Crossmolina made it over the line with almost 300 to spare and he will join 10 Fianna Fáil councillors making up the new council.
Outgoing Councillor Weir, who forged an Independent path over his clash with his former party’s views on pylons and wind turbines planned for the Moy Valley region, took a risk in leaving Fine Gael but it turned out to be a well-judged one and he hauled in 1,589 first preferences.
Jimmy Maloney over in Foxford did not fare too well in this election. He lost a lot of territory to the new Castlebar electoral area and he was never really in the running with just 682 first preferences.
However, Foxford still has a representative in the form of Cruise.
John O’Hara, who was co-opted on to Mayo County Council to replace Michelle Mulherin after she departed for national duty in the Dáil, topped the poll in the area on 1,612 first preferences.
Annie May Reape’s first count cache of 1,256, and her transfer friendliness, ensured she was a definite all right although it was the ninth count and after five in the morning before she crossed the line on 1,822.
Jarlath Munnelly (FG ), although down quite a chunk of first preferences compared to 2009, never really looked to be at risk either and he exceeded the quota with a final tally of 1,834 in the 10th count.
Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser earlier in the day, European candidate Luke Ming Flanagan called ‘the count’ the “crystallization of democracy” at work.
This count was certainly that - where preferences way down the list were being plucked from ballots in distributions in the 12th and 13th round to decide the last seat and when it came down to it, every last vote really did count in this area.
Crystallization of democracy or not though, at 7.30am, surely some of the exhausted and battle wearied candidates, their families and supporters, who had slogged out 12 hours overnight, with only takeaway coffee from the nearby 24-hour and Supermac’s for sustenance, must have been thinking ‘you know, electronic voting is not such a bad idea’.