Where did it all go wrong is what the Fine Gael party faithful will be trying to figure out over the next few weeks as they saw their seats in the county town drop from four to two over the weekend. One man who won’t be asking that question is Independent Cllr Michael Kilcoyne who topped the poll with an amazing 2,921 votes, a massive 1,210 first preference votes over the quota of 1,711. From not long after the boxes were opened and spilled across the counting tables in the Royal Theatre in Castlebar early on Saturday morning, there was never any doubt that Kilcoyne was going to top the poll, it was only a matter of by how much. When he was elected on the first count, he was the first councillor in Ireland elected in this year’s local elections, but he had to wait until the early hours of Tuesday morning for the official declaration of election after the recount of the Castlebar papers had been concluded. More on that below.
Kilcoyne had more than 1,400 votes to spare over his nearest rivals, Lisa Chambers (FF ) who got 1,481 on the first count, and Sinn Féin’s Therese Ruane (1,419 ) on the first count, and it wasn’t until the sixth count that the two leading women in Castlebar politics made it over the line and the quota.
The big news from the count was the losses of Fine Gael on Enda Kenny’s home patch. While the party was hoping to retain the four seats they had in this area, they were very confident of keeping at least three of them, and to see Fianna Fáil overtake them in terms of representation on the county council in the area will hurt. Fine Gael received almost 500 more first preference votes than Fianna Fáil but by running five candidates compared to Fianna Fáil’s three the votes weren’t there to go around. Sitting councillors Eugene McCormack and Eugene Lavin were the men to taste defeat early on, while Castlebar Town Councillor Brendan Heneghan was the man who was left flying the flag late into the early hours of Tuesday morning, battling it out with Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Blackie Gavin for the last seat.
McCormack, who polled on 689 votes on the first count, was the fighting a losing battle and was eliminated on the fourth count after only picking up 64 transfers from Kilcoyne’s surplus of 1,210 along with the combined 471 votes of the eliminated pair of Donal Geraghty and Kamal Uddin.
Outgoing Labour Party Castlebar Town Councillor Harry Barrett will be another disappointed man after the election. Barrett, who has been a high profile campaigner on the jobs situation in the town, managed to get only 607 first preference votes compared to the 753 he got in 2009, when he had a much lower profile than he had going into last weekend’s election. In 2009 he lasted until the seventh count, and this time around he was eliminated on fifth count and ended up with 794 votes in total — 148 less than he managed to gather by the time he was eliminated five years ago.
Sinn Féin’s Therese Ruane had been widely predicted to take a seat this time around after coming so close five years ago and from as soon as the boxes were opened, she was comfortable and duly took the third seat finishing up with 1,719 votes thanks to a big transfer from Barrett after his elimination.
It was the eighth and final count that saw the other five seats filled when none of the five candidates managed to reach the quota. The Fine Gael pair of the Taoiseach’s brother Henry Kenny and the brother of the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Cyril Burke held on to the two seats for Fine Gael, alongside Independent Frank Durcan and Fianna Fáil’s long standing Cllr Al McDonnell who has been a sitting councillor for over 25 years now.
Gavin was the man who won the last seat by only 25 votes out of the 15,397 that were cast in the area on Friday. Gavin who was in a tight battle in 2009 with Sinn Féin’s Therese Ruane managed to hold on again to keep his seat this time around and told the Mayo Advertiser afterwards: “I want to thank the people of Castlebar and the areas around it for putting their faith in me once again and I’m not going to let them down.”
The recount was called for late on Saturday night and despite being expected to take place on Sunday first, it was then pushed back to Monday morning. After the all-night count in the Ballina area that finished up at 7.30am on Monday morning, the recount didn’t start until 6pm on Monday night and when the figures and fractions were finally all sorted out at 2.30am on Monday there was no change in the outcome, and Gavin held on to become the 30th member of the new county council.