IN many ways, the Claremorris six seat constituency was a microcosm of the 2009 elections at national level. For Fine Gael, it represented the best possible outcome, for Fianna Fáil the most disastrous, while the strong showing of Independents was clearly in evidence as well.
Fine Gael now has a major new front runner when it comes to ‘down the road’ Dáil ambitions. Patsy O’Brien has emerged as the clear favourite to don the party jersey, most likely at the second next General Election. Likeability is a huge factor in favour of any candidate and O’Brien copper-fastened his growing reputation with a sensational performance which saw him achieve the highest vote of any candidate in Mayo.
“I can’t believe it. I’m stunned. I knew I was going well, but you know yourself, you are often almost afraid to say it. I knew from the reaction that things were going well. But I never expected to hit such a high figure. It is a great honour to think that so many people have such faith in me to give me such a big vote,” said Patsy who also dedicated his win to the memory of his mother Angela who died some months ago.
For Richard Finn, the weekend elections marked an extraordinary resurrection and return to local politics. Five years ago, it truly looked like the end of an era when he lost out for the final seat. Together with Patsy O’Brien and Castlebar’s Michael Kilcoyne (Ind), he secured the biggest rise in first preference votes in Mayo, surging 750 above his 2004 vote.
“I was determined to get back the support of the people and win back the seat. This was my best ever campaign, a huge amount of work went into it. I had a top class team to help me out, they spared no effort and were hugely loyal to me.
“Over the last few weeks, I thought I was on course to win the seat but topping 1,800 on the first count and taking the second seat totally exceeded my expectations. This is the best day of my political life,” beamed Richard whose late mother Minnie, who also died some months ago, would, like Angela O’Brien, have been very proud of this achievement.
John Cribbin, the hard-working councillor, has made the Ballyhaunis region very much his own. They like Cribbin and this manifested itself in another massive vote from the area. “Glad to be back,” said John. “You can never take anything for granted but I felt there was a good mood for me and the party on the canvass. It is a very good election for Fine Gael here in Mayo.”
At the end of the long count on Saturday night, Damien Ryan, Fianna Fail’s only candidate in this big electoral region, was happy to have made it home. “The work was put in. We all had to fight for our seats. I am sorry to see us lose two councillors. But I am delighted to be returned by the people of the area. It was not an easy election for the party.”
For Tom Connolly and Michael Burke (FG), there was relief and pride that they were players on a team that made political history by winning four of the six seats. “This was a good campaign and I was happy to play my part in bringing about this excellent result for the party. My team worked hard for me and now I intend to work hard for them and all the people of the area,” said Tom Connolly.
Ballinrobe’s Michael Burke was delighted to be back again. He was well placed to regain the seat after his first preference vote left him in a strong challenging position. The elimination of Harry Walsh was always going to be the decisive factor after that. “I got the big transfer I needed and we achieved what few thought was possible, four out of four for Fine Gael. It is a great night for us and I want to thank all who rallied behind me.”
The region had the highest list of casualties with three outgoing councillors, Michael Carty and Pat McHugh of Fianna Fail and Harry Walsh (Ind) failing in their re-election bids. It was a disappointing night for all three and their families and supporters. And it may well be the end of the political road for all three. For the other candidate, Ger McHale, easily the youngest candidate in the field, he will feel that time is very much on his side for another try in five years time ….if he can secure the nomination.