FIANNA Fáil thought they had the Cathaoirleach’s scalp. Joe Mellett was in big trouble in the Swinford electoral area. Aware of the blue tsunami tiding its way across the deserted plains of the Republican Party, the soldiers of destiny thought that they would win the war after losing every battle.
They never bargained for Joe Mellett’s relationship with Lazarus. Joe came fourth on the fourth count to take the fourth seat singing ‘Four in the Morning’ as the sun was rising.
Fianna Fáil’s win, when it came, was late but sweet, on a different level. Blackie Gavin saved the day, filling the last seat on Mayo County Council. It was seat number 31, the same as his nomination number, to give Fianna Fáil some semblance of dignity as they homeward plodded their weary ways on Sunday night/Monday morning. They were greeted with ‘The West’s Awake,’ booming across the car park outside The Ruby Room in the TF Royal Theatre, with former councillor, Frankie Chambers, in full voice, as the doors closed on a local election that Fianna Fáil will want to forget. They were decimated in Mayo, which was replicated across the country.
The normal counting procedures for the county council elections in the TF Royal Theatre were somewhat interrupted by the European Count Centre. Whose idea was it to have two counts - county council and European - located in the one room? Clearing out the county council ballot boxes to another room on the evening of the count seemed a strange exercise. This is not any fault of staff attached to Mayo County Council. Whatever notion was attached to that decision deserves further thinking. It facilitated nobody and proved burdensome to everybody.
When counting got underway it was like the flag being raced – only this was akin to a blood sport. There is a certain adrenalin rush that accompanies such an outing that one can only appreciate its rush when it starts. This, coupled with the purpose of the exercise, the greatest expression of our democracy, has an immensely deep attraction. It is like the pull of political gravity. The sheer, raw power of the PR system is so much in evidence as surplus votes are transferred and preferences other than number one votes are called upon. In the heat of the count centre one becomes aware that every vote matters. On so many occasions, the number 5, 6 or 7 has proved decisive, democracy gently unfolding its caring embrace.
Fine Gael can claim that the country has been washed in a blue rinse and Independents can wallow in a new found freedom of expression. The Fianna Fáil party is licking the wounds of the few who are left standing. Of course the people voted against the Government and of course they used the opportunity to get the message through to the so-called saviours of democracy that the country is in a mess.
No amount of pleading for understanding will be granted to a Government that consistently refuses to listen to the citizens of the country. The ballot box is the last refuge of democracy. The people’s votes have shaken those boxes with rage over the past week. Blue with anger is how one pundit described it. Westport has seen a surge for Fine Gael with the Ring machine working on full throttle. Eight candidates were put forward, eight were elected, three in the Westport electoral area for Mayo County Council and five for Westport Town Council. It was an incredible achievement. For once, Fine Gaelers struck gold with their vote management. The party in general and Michael Ring in particular have been criticised for a lack of success in the transfer of votes. This time Ringo has come up trumps, aided and abetted by his wife, Anne, staff and party colleagues. It was a lesson in vote management, not just in Westport but in Mayo. Fine Gael can relish the celebration party and so can the Independents.
Fine Gael is in a strong position on local authorities across the country. That should be used to implement changes in the operation of local government. While the party is not in a position to legislate for any changes members can certainly ‘force’ change. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.
There are signs from Westport, Castlebar and Ballina Town Councils and Mayo County Council that the relationship between those who are elected and those who are council officials will be tested. Rose Conway-Walsh, the newly elected Sinn Féin councillor from Ballycroy, says that the workings of the council and local authority procedures should be on the agenda for all first-time councillors. Along with party colleague, Gerry Murray, both will provide the chamber with serious challenges. Fine Gael’s promise to freeze development levies, water and business rates will be high on their agenda. Soon, people will realise who makes the laws that we are living under. The EU will emerge as a major source of legislation that, some people claim, is strangling this country. Being elected to a council is no longer a passport to an entitlement but rather an onerous task of responsibility. People want answers and action, especially at a time when jobs are under threat and the livelihoods of people are no longer assured. An active, questioning councillor is what is needed, not a chamber wallflower. Independents Michael Kilcoyne, Frank Durcan, Michael Holmes, Richard Finn and Gerry Ginty will certainly change the landscape of Mayo County Council. Both Michael Kilcoyne and Frank Durcan will also beat out a drum on Castlebar Town Council. Independents Gerry Ginty, Peter Clarke and Mary Kelly will sing from a similar tune on Ballina Town Council while Westport’s Martin Keane has proved to be a poll-topper after his year as Cathaoirleach.
Election 2009 will be a hallmark for Fine Gael and the Independents, just as much as it will indicate the dire straits of Fianna Fáil in Mayo. The party is in disarray, fuelled by petty rivalries and enormous egos. The rivalries and egos are evident at town council level in Castlebar, Ballina and Westport while they are rampant on Mayo County Council. Sometimes it appears to be like a feeding frenzy of bitterness, one growl trying to out do the other. While party HQ must shoulder some of the blame for its ongoing arrogance in the way it treats members and local cumainn, the in-fighting among members is all but nauseating. One Mayo member described the party throughout the country at present as being full of ‘dynasties and dysenteries.’
There were notable wins and hurting losses in Mayo. All those who put their names on the ballot paper fan the flames of democracy in this little country of ours. They are to be commended. Those who won relish the feeling of satisfaction while those who lost feel the pain of what seems like public humiliation. Eventually that pain gives way to the realisation that many people are genuinely sorry for their loss. Living to fight another day eventually dawns. Council staff play an integral part in the pursuit of democracy during elections. Marathon counts fade into memory’s corners as Election 2009 takes its place in history.