Fine Gael’s outstanding performance at the polls did little to keep them in line for honours around the table at Ballina Town Council on Monday night, after a Fianna Fáil pact with two Independents elevated Independent Cllr Mary Kelly to the Mayoral office.
Hot on her heels with a successful nomination for leas-Mayor was FF Cllr Frances McAndrew.
Cllr Mary Kelly voted with Fianna Fáil after a 10-year alliance with Fine Gael crumbled as a result of Cllr Mark Winters’ controversial decision to renege on a deal to rotate the chair last year.
The FG councillor hit headlines at the 2008 general meeting when he back-tracked on an agreement with four Fianna Fáil members who had planned to elect Cllr Frances McAndrew as Mayor, and in doing so controversially voted in favour of electing party colleague Cllr Michelle Mulherin as Cathaoirleach.
But the decision was set to return to haunt his party after new Méara, Cllr Kelly, said: “I had to make a choice and I was damned if I did or damned if I didn’t. I have been democratically elected and have made a decision to rotate the chair for the next five years. For the past 10 years I have supported Fine Gael but was disappointed when the chair did not rotate as expected.”
At last week’s meeting a voting strategy between two of the three Independents and members of Fianna Fáil was clearly evident when Ind Cllr Mary Kelly was nominated for the chair by Ind Cllr Peter Clarke and seconded by Cllr Frances McAndrew. Despite a counter proposal tabled by Cllr Gerry Ginty for Cllr Mulherin to retain the Mayor’s position to “reflect the will of the people of Ballina”, Cllr Kelly was elected by five votes to four.
The new Mayor said she was looking forward to the completion of projects including the Jackie Clarke Library, the IDA Park, the rejuvenation of St Patrick’s Estate, and the Dunne’s Stores developments, and highlighted the importance of equality within the chamber. “We are all equal here with the only exception being I will preside over our meetings. I will afford every member the same amount of respect but I will expect that same level of respect to be returned,” she said.
Méara Kelly accepted the chain from outgoing Mayor, Michelle Mulherin, who chaired the meeting despite a Fianna Fáil observation that standing orders dictated a member of council staff do so.
Throughout the rest of the business of the meeting, the Clarke-Kelly-Fianna Fáil voting pattern continued, thwarting Fine Gael’s chances of taking any plaudits, including the position of leas-Méara.
Following the nomination of Cllr McAndrew by Cllr O’Malley, Cllr Winters put forward newly-elected Cllr Barry McLoughlin, but the FG bid was again defeated and Cllr McAndrew was deemed elected as deputy Mayor.
There were no successes for Fine Gael or Cllr Ginty in the subsequent nominations of delegates to the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, Mayo Vocational Education Committee (VEC ), or the county council’s strategic policy committees (SPCs ). The majority voting pattern saw FF councillors Willie Nolan and Frances McAndrew appointed as delegates to the Association of the Municipal Authorities of Ireland while in the race for the Mayo VEC committee, councillors Kelly and O’Malley were successfully nominated.
The final election of members to Mayo County Council SPCs was the most interesting after Fine Gael dramatically withdrew from the nominations, sealing their fate to walk away with nothing.
In the only cross-party vote, Cllr Johnnie O’Malley nominated both FG’s Barry McLoughlin and Mark Winters, but both members subsequently withdrew.
Cllr Winters told the meeting: “This is a disgrace. There was no prior discussion on any of this and on what is on the agenda tonight.”
Subsequently, councillors Johnnie O’Malley and Peter Clarke were elected to the local authority SPCs.
After congratulating the newly appointed Mayor, Cllr Ginty said “what has gone on here tonight” would be left to the people of Ballina to judge in the future. He predicted that Cllr Mulherin “would ultimately be the winner from what has happened”.
Cllr Ginty also appealed to newly-elected Mayor, Cllr Kelly, to consider taking a cut in her mayoral allowance.
While the Mayor said the item was “not on the agenda of the meeting” she said she would be happy to deal with the issue at a later date.