LAST Thursday, a poster was dropped into The Mayo News office announcing a supplementary entry in the upcoming local elections. The ‘candidate’ was none other than John Durcan, best known for dressing up as St Patrick at various sporting events. The Westport man had placed a picture of himself in full ecclesiastical regalia next to a message that may resonate with disaffected voters. “Scrap the gravy trains,” it announced. “Break up the cosy cartels. Eliminate the wastage of public monies and let us start building a future for our youth on June 5th. Vote No 1 DURCAN, Non-Party.”
Those who have been following the campaign closely may recognise the message as that of Frank Durcan, who is seeking to regain his seat on both Mayo County Council and Castlebar Town Council. Still, more than one person who has called to this newspaper’s headquarters in the last few days has been taken in by John’s impressive rejigging of the original advertisement. “Is ‘St Patrick’ running as well?” one man said with a smile. “He has a high profile anyway – he could do all right.”
Of course, the deadline for nominations has passed, so Ireland’s patron saint won’t be standing. But perhaps one or two people who have seen the imaginative mock-up poster will enter the polling booth next Friday seeking to vote for Mayo’s most colourful supporter. After all, many years ago one woman famously backed Gerry Ginty in both the Ballina Town Council and Mayo County Council elections, and then sought to give him her number one vote for the European elections – despite the fact that he wasn’t running for Europe!
But then the race for seats in Brussels has often failed to capture the public imagination. And it’s no different this year, if a recent RTÉ radio report from Ballaghaderreen is anything to go by. “I don’t know anything about it, love,” was the response of an old woman whom Jim Fahy asked about the European Parliament election in the North-West constituency. And farmers in town for the day had other priorities. “The weather – we need weather,” one man told the News At One. “That’s what we need. Farmers need weather and they need to get rid of the government ... Totally annihilate them. They don’t know what they’re doing. All that’s between their ears is sawdust.”
More than one Labour Party loyalist may go to the polls planning to vote for Johnny Mee, but of course, for the first time in aeons, the veteran Castlebar councillor’s name won’t be on the ballot paper. A few years ago, Mee described Mayo as ‘the longest red light district on Ireland’, but he wasn’t commenting on unregulated prostitution on the streets of the west. Instead, the Labour Party councillor was complaining about the long wait for a green light on the N26 and N5 roads.
Johnny fought many a political battle in his day – like Ernie Sweeney, who spent many years campaigning for the inclusion of photos on ballot papers as a visual aid for those with reading and writing difficulties. The voters of the Mid Roscommon Electoral Area have particular reason to be grateful to Ernie ahead of this Friday’s election, as among the candidates they have to choose from are two men with the same name. Fianna Fáil councillor Martin Connaughton, who’s based in Athleague, has been joined on the ballot paper by his first cousin, also named Martin Connaughton, who’s running as an Independent. “There is no doubt it could lead to confusion,” the Fianna Fáiler acknowledged.
And there’s confusion closer to home too. “Michael Ring will top the poll anyway,” one Westport man predicted last week, proof perhaps that the Fine Gael TD’s prominence on some party posters may have its drawbacks. Ringo is a formidable vote-getter, but even he might be hard pressed to win an election he’s not contesting. Muddles over who’s running aren’t confined to Westport, either. The suggestion of one publican that ‘if you’re from Ballinrobe, you should vote for Patsy Burke’ may leave his customers in a quandary on Friday.
The fun is about to begin ...