Like marathons, election campaigns are long journeys more often suited to the long distance runner then to the sprinter. As on all long journeys events can happen and change predictions that seemed definite at the outset, this is especially true when it’s a political journey. Bear that in mind as we begin the coverage of the local election campaign scheduled for next June. If Madame Editor allows, this scribe will return to my predictions when the ballots are cast and counted to see how wrong (or right! ) I was!
I feel that Fine Gael have got their bounce in Mayo already. They are riding high in the national polls (and still will be in June ) but that will not impact on Mayo given their already high level of support here. Independents are the dark horses in any local election - each area will have some.
Ballina (6 seats )
It’s hard to see past Seamus Weir, Michelle Mulherin, Eddie Staunton, Annie May Reape and Johnnie O’Malley retaining their seats, in that order. Jarlath Munnelly is in a fight because of boundary changes. Dara Calleary will be under enormous pressure from Brian Cowen to deliver an extra seat here if he’s to do it, it will come from the Crossmolina area. As of now FF’s candidate strategy is unclear here. Expect a long night and Fianna Fáil to prevail. There’s no strong independent or other party candidate in sight as of yet so FF 3 FG 3.
Belmullet/Achill (4 seats )
Given the extent of the boundary changes here it’s hard to declare anyone safe, but Michael Holmes has had a good five years and with additional ground in Newport he should be strong. Michael McNamara (FF ) will come under huge pressure from Pat Kilbane (FG ) for the Achill seat. I expect McNamara to prevail - he’s been the most impressive of the newly elected councillors in 2004. However, Frank Chambers has yet to declare his hand - is he running in Belmullet or Westport? This will make an impact, but McNamara is stronger if Chamber decides to run in Belmullet. Gerry Coyle is the Fine Gael standard-bearer at the moment - hard to see past him again but he could be susceptible to a strong FG candidate based between Mulranny and Bangor. The dark horse in this race is SF’s Rose Conway - how will she impact on the race five years after nearly taking a seat? Will the effects of the Shell to Sea campaign be a negative or a positive for her? If she gains strength she has to affect Tim Quinn (FF ). Quinn is wily and well used to marathons and I reckon he’ll hang in there. But Conway is the dark horse here. FF 2 , FG 1, Ind 1 (no change, but watch Conway ).
Castlebar (7 seats )
Fianna Fáil were in a mess here in 2004 and things don’t seem to have improved. Fine Gael are dominant and once they get their ticket sorted will remain so. The intrigue here surrounds the Michael Kilcoyne/ Harry Barrett fight. The departure of Johnny Mee leaves it wide open for Kilcoyne to capture the seat that he thought he had in 2004. My guess is that Kilcoyne will skate home - he seems to have learned the complacency lesson. FF should be in a position to gain the extra seat allocated via the boundary revision but there’s no sign of a ticket yet and no sign of a peace process and until there is we can’t predict anything. So as of now I’m saying FG 3 (Bourke, McGuinness and Kenny ), FF 2 (McDonnell and AN Other ), Ind 1 - final seat between FG and FF.
Westport (4 seats )
It’s hard to see past Margaret Adams (FF ), John O’Malley (FG ) and Austin Francis O’Malley (FG ) and probably in that order. The last seat will depend on many things. If Frank Chambers runs in Westport he’ll stake a strong claim to it, however he’s lost his Newport base and will be forced to travel deep into the area for votes. Fianna Fáil’s Caroline Nevin is tipped to contest the Louisburgh area - an unknown quantity, but with the best brain in Mayo politics, Martin Joe O’Toole, behind her, don’t rule her out. Finally Fine Gael seems to be moving towards sorting their Westport town problem. Expect Teresa McGuire to fly the flag there but Chambers to prevail, so FF 2 FG 2.
Claremorris (6 seats )
Boundary changes see Ballinrobe merged into Claremorris again. It’s hard to see many more changes though. FG’s John Cribbin is safe. His colleague Patsy O’Brien will be under pressure as he has lost ground to Castlebar but the main pressure will come from his party colleague Michael Bourke, and one of these will end up occupying a seat. The choices that Fianna Fáil make will dictate the pressure that the fourth FG candidate Tom Connolly is under. If they decide to leave Claremorris town without a candidate Connolly is home and dry and on a good day in this scenario, FG might challenge for the fourth seat. If, however, they place a candidate in Claremorris town alongside sitting councillors Michael Carty, Pat McHugh and Damien Ryan, Connolly will be under pressure. Outgoing independent Harry Walsh won’t give up without a fight and there is a strong Independent tradition in this electoral area but he may be squeezed between Walsh and O’Brien on one side and Damien Ryan on the other. I’m calling this FF 3 FG 3.
Swinford ( 4 seats )
Gerry Murray will once again lead the field here in spite of his poor general election. After that there are no certs. The Fine Gael team is likely to be Joe Mellett, Eugene Lavin and two others - one Foxford-based and one Charlestown-based. The tragic death of JJ O’Hara leaves FG without a high-profile Foxford candidate to tackle FF’s Jimmy Maloney so I’m going to give him a seat. There’s definitely one FG seat so I’m calling the last seat to be a tight race between FG and FF. Given that FG is in situ, I’ll call it for them. FG 2, SF 1 FF 1
Overall: FG 14, FF 13, Ind 2, SF 1, can’t call 1.