SITTING PRETTY The three candidates selected to go forward for Fine Gael, Michelle Mulherin, Michael Ring and Alan Dillon, listen attentively at last Sunday’s selection convention in the TF Royal Theatre, Castlebar. Cllr Patsy O’Brien was the candidate to lose out. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
O'Brien rules out running as an Independent after convention defeat
COUNTY councillor Patsy O’Brien has categorically stated he has no intention of running as an Independent in the next General Election.
That’s after he failed in his bid to secure a nomination for Fine Gael at the party’s convention in the TF Royal Theatre, Castlebar on Sunday night last.
The Robeen-based councillor put up a very respectable showing on the night but lost out to Senator Michelle Mulherin, Minister Michael Ring, and newcomer, former Mayo senior footballer Alan Dillon.
The convention was the first the party has held ahead of a General Election since 1992 but Cllr O’Brien, while very disappointed, said there was no way he would be running as an Independent, despite the lack of a Fine Gael candidate in the south and east of the county.
“No, I would not think about going Independent,” an emotional Cllr O’Brien told The Mayo News at close to 1am in the TF on Monday morning.
“I am a party man, out and out, and I made it clear from the start that what will be done is in the best interests of the party. We now have three candidates going forward for the next General Election, and whatever the strategy is when the time comes, I will stand behind them.”
There was a very large attendance in the TF for the convention, with those registered to vote and supporters of the four candidates streaming into the venue from 7pm.
All four candidates addressed the party supporters from 8.30pm onwards, and voting and counting of the votes took place between 10pm until after midnight. It was just after 12.30am when it was announced by Seán Kyne, TD, who was the convention Chairman, that the three candidates chosen were Dillon, Mulherin and Ring.
Fine Gael Party Secretary, Tom Curran, did not divulge the official result to the press but sources have revealed that the the unofficial result was as follows: Mulherin (256), Ring (254), Dillon (193) and O’Brien (140). The quota was 211 votes. Dillon got 33 of Mulherin’s surplus, compared to 11 for O’Brien, to confirm that the two-time GAA All-Star, would have his name on a General Election ballot paper on his very first foray into politics.
Dillon up for the challenge
Naturally, the Ballintubber footballer, who was reared in Ballyheane but now lives in Castlebar with his wife Ashling, was delighted with the result.
“It’s a huge endorsement from the Mayo Fine Gael delegates, they have put their faith in me. In truth, I suppose my work starts tomorrow morning, it will be a huge challenge but it is something I will relish and am truly looking forward to.”
Unlike his his fellow candidates, Dillon is starting from scratch, and now has to surround himself with a team to prepare him for a shot at Dáil Éireann.
“I will now have to formalise a backroom team as the first hurdle has now been cleared. I’ll be talking and working with all the councillors and other Fine Gael representatives in the county in the coming weeks.
“I think it’s a great time to be entering politics, Fine Gael are still doing really well, and we now have to target three seats from four. The three chosen candidates are based out of the three big towns (Ballina, Castlebar and Westport) and it’s my job to try and maintain a seat here in Castlebar that has been here for 64 years.”
There was much talk at the convention about Alan Dillon’s great footballing history and the freshness he will bring to the Fine Gael team, but veteran Michael Ring, a TD for the party since 1994, made it known that experience is also a hugely valuable asset, and that he was now ready to ‘captain’ the Fine Gael party in Mayo in the absence of the retiring former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.
“It’s great to see Michelle Mulherin back, she was very unlucky in the last General Election, and its great to a fresh face in Alan Dillon. We have a great team and I’m ready to be the captain of that team, for the next General Election.
“What this convention has shown it that the Fine Gael party is alive and well in Mayo and we are now going for three seats. And to be fair, we have to pay tribute to Patsy O’Brien, he put in a superb performance, he has been a great servant to Fine Gael and hopefully his day will come.
“I was up against it in terms of numbers so I am delighted with the result, once again the Fine Gael grassroots have come out to support me when necessary. We have now a very strong team, starting from the bases in the three major towns, and moving out into the rest of the county.”
Mulherin back in the race
Senator Michelle Mulherin ended up topping the poll, obviously attracting large support from the big numbers of registered Fine Gael members in the Ballina area. She was quick to compliment her one-time fellow county councillor O’Brien for forcing a convention by letting his name go forward.
“It’s great to see such a massive turnout and although I know he is very disappointed right now, I think Patsy O’Brien, long-term, may have done the party a massive favour. People have gone to great lengths to get out and support Fine Gael tonight, there is still a massive appetite there which is great to see.
“Obviously we don’t know when the General Election will be, and I have my work to continue as Senator, but this is politics and you do always have to be in a some sort of campaigning mode. If you are not, I don’t think you are as relevant as you can be.
“I have been a TD before, I really want to win my seat back and I have been given a really strong mandate here tonight, which I am very proud of indeed,” the Ballina Senator told The Mayo News.
South Mayo issue
From the outset, Cllr O’Brien did look at a disadvantage due to the fact that large parts of south Mayo area are still in the Galway West/South Mayo constituency.
“Look, everyone knows I was at a disadvantage due to the situation in South Mayo, but I gave it my best shot and I am proud of the showing I put in. Again, I wanted to highlight the plight of communities in South Mayo who have been spilt down the middle due to the boundary changes, and I will continue to highlight that. It needs to come back.”
Cllr O’Brien said he had ‘no hard feelings’ at all about the result.
“I ran the race, I ran it fair and clean, and I gave it a good shot. I would have been always close to Michael Ring in terms of voters so I have to thankful to all the people who came out to support me. I am still a politician, I’m still a councillor and I have local elections to be getting ready for now next year. I suppose, the one good thing to come out of it all is that I have been campaigning and I hope I can make that count when the local elections come round.”