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Lack of transfer policy leaves FF down to one

Lack of transfer policy leaves FF down to one

Michael ComminsMichael Commins

THE Claremorris six seat electoral area had everything. It was drama all the way from once the first few boxes were open until late into the night when the seats were finally filled at the end of an extraordinary day.
Fine Gael swept home with four seats, Independent candidate Richard Finn became the first in over half a century to win back a seat on Mayo County Council, and Damien Ryan was the only Fianna Fáil candidate to get over the line.
The first box from the Claremorris region to be opened was from Ballycushion. It confirmed what we all expected … Patsy O’Brien of Fine Gael was doing the business. As the tallies for the various booths rolled in later, ‘O’Brienitis’ was sweeping like a pandemic across the region. The ‘Hoover’ had swept up over 2,700 when all the votes were in. A staggering performance by the man from Robeen who was elected on his first outing five years ago.
If O’Brien’s poll-topping performance was one of the big talking points, the other was the sensational comeback of Claremorris Independent candidate Richard Finn. Edged out for the last seat five years ago, Finn put in a storming performance to almost double his vote to over 1,800 first preferences and ended up being second across the line in the process.
John Cribbin finished second on first preference votes, pulling in 1,981. Ballyhaunis backed Cribbin in overwhelming fashion where he took in excess of 1,000 from the boxes. Add in big votes in Tooreen, Bekan and Logboy and it was easy to see why John had a most relaxed day at the count centre.
The final tallies showed young Gerard McHale of Fianna Fail trailing the field after polling a creditable 672 on his debut, a decent achievement on a day when the party was certainly battling a strong tide.
With outgoing councillor Pat McHugh from Ballindine coming in under 1,000 at the end of the first count, it was clear that he was going to be the first victim (outgoing) of a night that was eventually to see three councillors from the region lose their seats.
Outgoing Independent Harry Walsh from Kilmaine, who put in a strong performance to take around 1,100 on the first count, realised early on that he had nowhere to get sufficient transfers to stay in the race after seeing Michael Burke and Damien Ryan command leads of 300. Indeed, Harry conceded early in the day that he would not retain his seat.
While the O’Brien, Finn and Cribbin camps could sit back and relax early in the day, it was a tense evening and long night for the supporters of the other four candidates.
No one could be certain how the battle for the last three seats would pan out between Fine Gael’s Tom Connolly and Michael Burke and Fianna Fail’s Damien Ryan and Michael Carty.
The Fine Gael camp was reasonably confident that they could take four seats if Patsy O’Brien’s surplus came ‘right’ for them. On the other hand, Fianna Fáil had two quotas of votes and they were hoping that their two outgoing councillors could just about hold on avoid what could only be viewed as a disastrous result otherwise.
All politics is local and none more so that in the Council elections. The distribution of Ger McHale’s votes saw Richard Finn (Ind) pick up the largest amount with Tom Connolly (FG) also getting a sizeable chunk. Less than 50% transferred to the other three Fianna Fail candidates, a fact that hinted that Fine Gael were becoming warm favourites to pull off the four.
The distribution of Pat McHugh’s votes saw the same pattern emerge, a huge slippage of over 50% away from Fianna Fail with Tom Connolly, Richard Finn and John Cribbin the main beneficiaries of that drift. His running mate Michael Carty did receive the biggest amount, 361, but would have needed at least 150 more to have a realistic chance.
The gap between Connolly and Carty had now widened to around 180 and, with Harry Walsh (Ind) going out next in the southern end, there was nowhere Michael Carty could turn to make up that gap.
For the first time, a clear picture of the final destination of the last three seats had now come into view. Connolly, who had put in a strong performance to poll 1,500 first preferences, could now relax as the Fianna Fáil challenge faltered in the run-in.
The focus was once again back on the candidates from the Ballinrobe area and it was clear that both Michael Burke and Damien Ryan, who had been almost locked together in numbers from the outset, would benefit hugely from the distribution of Harry Walsh’s votes.
Ryan scooped 470 to take him five above the quota. Burke took 390 to leave him on 1,999 while Tom Connolly took 110 to leave him on 2,021. Just 32 went the way of Michael Carty, leaving him trailing on 1,766 and losing out in the race for the last seat.
The almost incredible scenario had played itself out … Fianna Fáil down to just one seat. The night belonged to Fine Gael and Richard Finn as the curtains finally came down on a long campaign.