Mayo goes to the ballot box today

The majority of voters in Mayo will go to the ballot box today, voting on the islands took place yesterday for possibly the last time, with moves afoot to have islanders vote on the same day as the rest of the country in the future.

The local elections is where most of the focus in the county will be given, with 63 candidates seeking the 30 seats up for grabs in Aras an Chontae for the next five years. Also down for decision is the European elections, with 17 candidates looking for one of the four seats to represent the sprawling Midlands-North West constituency that stretches from Louth right across the county to the edge of Achill island and some more, in the European Parliament for the next half-a-decade.

The third ballot paper that will be handed to voters today is in relation to changing the divorce laws in Ireland. The proposal is about two issues relating to divorce, namely how long people must be living apart before applying for a divorce, and the recognition of foreign divorces. There will be one question on the ballot paper and voters can either vote yes to allow both changes, or no to reject both changes. Voters cannot accept one change and reject the other.

On the local scene, 26 of the current sitting councillors will be looking to retain their seats - with councillors Frank Durcan, Michael Holmes, Henry Kenny and Gerry Ginty retiring from politics at the end of their current terms. While 63 candidates have put their name forward for election, only ten of them are women - last time around five women were elected out of the 30 councillors with two of them going on to hold higher elected office in the lifetime of the council.

There are also three sitting councillors running for the first time after being co-opted onto the council during the past five years, with Fianna Fáil Cllr Martin McLoughlin replacing Deputy Lisa Chambers after her election to the Dáil, Cllr Treasa Whelan of Sinn Féin filling the seat vacated by Senator Rose Conway Walsh following her election to the upper house of the Oireachtas and her party colleague Cllr Joe McHale, who filled the void following the retirement from politics mid-term of Thérèse Ruane.

There has been a change in the make-up of the electoral areas in Mayo for this year's local elections, with six different local electoral areas this time as opposed to four five years ago. The six areas are Ballina (six seats ), Belmullet (three seats ), Castlebar (seven seats ), Claremorris (six seats ), Swinford (four seats ) and Westport (four seats ). This has seen a number of councillors who were elected in areas last time face re-election in a different area this time around.

The current make up of Mayo County Council sees both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael hold ten seats each, Independent councillors holding seven and Sinn Féin having three of the 30 seats. The current power dynamic in the council sees Fianna Fáil and a group of Independent councillors holding the balance of power, following an agreement between both groupings after the 2014 election.

Fine Gael was the most popular party in terms of first preference votes in the 2014 local elections, getting 21,538 first preference votes, but the party also lost seven seats it had held going in to the election. Fianna Fáil was the next most popular party, getting 18,286 number one votes and picking up three seats from what they had in 2009, to pull level with Fine Gael on ten seats each when all the counting was done.

The counting will get under way on Saturday morning in the TF Royal Hotel in Castlebar in the local elections, with the referendum count taking place first and the European count getting under way on Sunday morning. Voting is open in polling stations around the county today from 7am to 10.30pm.

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