Castlebar battle likely to be intriguing contest

Local Elections 2019: Castlebar Local Electoral Area Preview

Poll topper: Independent Cllr Michael Kilcoyne was lifted shoulder high after topping the poll last time out in the Castlebar area. Photo: Michael Donnelly

Poll topper: Independent Cllr Michael Kilcoyne was lifted shoulder high after topping the poll last time out in the Castlebar area. Photo: Michael Donnelly

The Castlebar Local Electoral Area is the most crowded of all the areas for today's election with 17 candidates looking for the seven seats up for grabs.

The area has seen a number of changes since the last time the people went to the polls five years ago that could have an effect on the outcome of today's vote. Last time out the town of Kiltimagh and its hinterlands were included in the area - that area has now gone back to its more natural home in the Swinford Local Electoral Area.

Also while there are six sitting candidates on the ballot paper, only four of them were actually elected by the people last time around, with Cllr Martin McLoughlin (FF ) replacing Deputy Lisa Chambers after her election to the Dáil and Cllr Joe McHale (SF ) taking the seat won by Therese Ruane after she opted to retire from politics midway through the term.

Also missing from the ballot paper will be the familiar faces of Cllr Frank Durcan (Ind ) and Cllr Henry Kenny (FG ) with both men retiring from politics after long careers in local government. The retirement of both men leaves 2,175 first preference votes up for grabs this time around.

The smart money seems to be on Independent Cllr Michael Kilcoyne topping the poll once again, last time out he went over the quota by 1,116 votes getting 2,921 first preference votes. Where his surplus goes could be key to the battle of the last seat - if the two major parties manage to pick up a few more seats than the ten each they have at the minute - Kilcoyne and his fellow independents who tipped the balance of power in the council chamber will want to shore up their place as power brokers; if he could bring in another like minded Independent in Castlebar - that would be helpful to that cause.

The other three councillors who won their seats last time out will be expecting to retain their seats, Fianna Fáil's Cllr Blackie Gavin was the last man in last time out - but going into this vote as the sitting Cathaoirleach has given him even more visibility and should help him avoid that nervy ending. Both Cllr Cyril Burke (FG ) and Cllr Al McDonnell (FF ) are proven vote-getters and while they will be both pulling out of the same geographic areas, it would be a surprise if they didn't hold their seats.

For the two other sitting councillors it is going to be a new experience. Cllr McLoughlin is a veteran Fianna Fáil member and was a key part of Deputy Lisa Chambers successful ascent through the council elections and on to national office. Chambers took 1,481 first preference votes last time and if McLoughlin can repeat that kind of showing he will be more than on his way to retaining his seat. For Cllr McHale it looks like a tougher task for Sinn Féin to hold on to the seat won by Ruane on the sixth count last time around. Cllr McHale has been a diligent councillor since his co-option and will be hoping that some of the town vote left behind by the retiring councillors goes his way; Ruane had the fourth highest first preference vote last time in the area and repeating that kind of result would be a major achievement for him.

Fianna Fáil are only running three candidates in the area and will expect to hold on to their seats, Fine Gael are running four - only Cllr Burke is a sitting councillor - and they will expect to get at least one of the other three over the line to replace the retiring Cllr Kenny; picking up a third seat is a major target for them. The other three they are running are former town and county councillor, Eugene McCormack; former town councillor, Ger Deere and newcomer Donna Sheridan - who is the only female on the ballot this time in an area that returned two females last time. How Fine Gael manage their vote will be key to them improving on the two seats they have already - if they can take three seats and Fianna Fáil retain their three along with Kilcoyne's expected victory - that's the ball game.

Of the rest of the nominees, there are a number of interesting faces and potential vote-getters. Independent candidate Harry Barrett has come back for another swing at it and has been very active getting out and about since he declared his intention. He was a former Labour party town councillor and while now independent, he could make a serious dent if he can improve on the 606 first preference votes he got last time; and if Cllr Kilcoyne, (who was also a former Labour town councillor before going solo ) asks voters to give Barrett a second preference, it will give him a serious chance.

Of the others, Renua's Michael Farrington will be looking to try and take some of the votes that would have been in the bag for the retiring Cllr Durcan to get him up and running. People Before Profit's candidate, Joe Daly, has been very active over the past number of months on the street and on social media and will be looking to have a good first outing - and while he will probably come up short - it would set him up for another run in five years time.

Another interesting name on the ballot paper is former Fianna Fáil town councillor, Aidan Crowley, who as a late entrant into the race, will be another targeting the votes that Cllr Durcan got in the past in the county town, while Labour's Kamal Uddin will be looking to increase on the 132 he got five years ago; and new entrants Anthony Vesey and Gerry Loftus will be all hoping to make a dent and build up their momentum for future races.

Castlebar Local Electoral Area

Seats: 7

Contesting: 17

Sitting councillors: 6

Candidates

Fine Gael: Cyril Burke, Donna Sheridan, Ger Deere, Eugene McCormack. Fianna Fáil: Blackie Gavin, Al McDonnell, Martin McLoughlin. Sinn Féin: Joe McHale. Labour: Kamal Uddin. Renua: Michael Farrington. People Before Profit: Joe Daly. Independent: Anthony Vesey, Gerry Loftus, Michael Kilcoyne, Harry Barrett, Des Walsh, Aidan Crowley.

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