The curtain finally came down on the local and European election count in the Royal Theatre in Castlebar in the early hours of Thursday after a mammoth almost five days of counting of votes, when Marian Harkin held off the challenge of Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher to win the last seat in the Midlands North West European constituency.
Before that, in the early hours of Tuesday, the local elections finally came to a conclusion when Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Blackie Gavin held off Fine Gael’s Brendan Henaghan to win the last seat in the Castlebar Municipal District after a recount.
The political landscape in the county changed, with Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and Independent candidates all making major gains at the expense of Fine Gael. The new make up of the council will see Fine Gael hold 10 seats, Fianna Fáil 10 seats, Independents seven seats, and Sinn Féin three.
In the Castlebar area in particular, Fine Gael lost two of the seats it had in the area before the election, with both Eugene McCormack and Eugene Lavin losing their seats, as Sinn Féin’s Cllr Therese Ruane and Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Lisa Chambers both won seats on the council and went over the quota on the sixth count. The only two Fine Gael councillors to survive the cull was Cllr Henry Kenny and Cllr Cyril Burke, who were both elected without reaching the quota alongside Cllr Frank Durcan (Ind ) and Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Al McDonnell and Cllr Gavin.
Independent Cllr Michael Kilcoyne was the main man on the day in the Castlebar area as he gobbled up a massive 2,921 first preference votes, 1,210 more than the quota.
There were other big name Fine Gael casualties, with the outgoing Cathaoirleach of the council, Johnny O’Malley, losing his seat in West Mayo alongside his party colleague Austin Francis O’Malley. The Fine Gael whip in the previous council, Joe Mellet, was another to taste defeat in the Ballina area as did Michael Burke in the Claremorris area.
With the five independents elected to the previous council re-elected (Cllr Kilcoyne, Cllr Gerry Ginty, Cllr Frank Durcan, Cllr Richard Finn, and Cllr Michael Holmes ), they will be joined in the council chamber by two new Independents, Cllr Seamus Weir and Cllr Christy Hyland, both men who were former Fine Gael members, with Weir being elected as a Fine Gael councillor at the previous local elections and Cllr Hyland having been elected a Fine Gael town councillor in Westport before both men split from the party in the last few months for differing reasons.
While Sinn Féin will be happy to have added another councillor to the two the party already had, they will be disappointed not to have added a fourth seat with John Sheehan coming ninth in the battle for eight seats in the Ballina area. Both Cllr Rose Conway Walsh and Cllr Gerry Murray put in outstanding performances in the ballot box, as did Cllr Ruane in Castlebar.
Fianna Fáil will be very happy with their outcome, with Cllr Chambers polling the second highest number of first preference votes in the Castlebar area, behind the unstoppable Kilcoyne. She will be joined by other new Fianna Fáil faces with Cllr Brendan Mulroy and Cllr Paul McNamara making the breakthrough in West Mayo. In Ballina, Cllr Annie May Reape retained her seat and she will be joined by her newly elected Cllr Michael Loftus and Cllr Michael Smyth. In the Claremorris area, after polling well in 2009, Cllr John Caulfield finally got over the line this time and he’ll join his long serving party colleague Cllr Damien Ryan this time around in the council chamber.
With the new council due to meet for the first time in just over a week’s time, there will be a lot of political manoeuvring going on behind the scenes over the next few days as all sides try to get enough votes together to exert some sort of power on the council.