WHILE the rest of the county was turning blue, nobody seemed to tell the people of the Belmullet Electoral Area who returned a mixed bag of candidates Mayo County Council - one Fianna Fáil, one Fine Gael, one Sinn Féin and an Independent.
All the talk in the count centre on Sunday morning was of Joe Mellett’s great escape act just a few hours previously when he came back from the dead to retain his seat in Swinford. Rumours had been flying around the peninsula that veteran Tim Quinn was in trouble in Belmullet and would probably need to pull off his own great escape.
The previous days tally had shown Quinn was trailing well behind the top four candidates but when the votes were counted for real everyone all but knew his 35 year tenure as a county councillor was over.
Instead it was the massive vote pulling power of his colleague Micheál McNamara, who polled 1,503 first preference votes, which shocked everyone in the centre. With his Fianna Fail colleagues struggling all around him, he bucked the trend to become the only Fianna Fáil councillor in the county to be the first to be elected in their electoral area.
He had been expected to be pressed hard by Fine Gael’s Pat Kilbane, but his challenge did not materialise, getting a disappointing 905 first preference votes. He would have hoped to benefit from the Fine Gael vote in Newport but the turnout in that area was poor with only 36 per cent of a turnout in one box in Newport NS, with the majority going to Michael Holmes.
When the first count was announced McNamara was out ahead of the rest of the field but it was much tighter just below him. Independent Michael Holmes was second with 1,412 followed by Fine Gael’s Gerry Coyle on 1,385 and Conway-Walsh on 1,368. Quinn trailed further back on 1,130 and Ian McAndrew will also be disappointed with his total of 962.
Realistically the first count showed that McNamara, Holmes and Coyle were going to get elected and the only real battle was if Conway-Walsh could hold off Quinn for the final seat. Five years ago, on her first time running she also polled well but she was hauled back and lost out on the last seat because the transfers went against her. If she was to keep Quinn at bay, she had to pick up transfers and the first indication she would came when she got 95 votes compared to Quinn’s 34 when both James Padden and John Corrigan’s votes were distributed, when they were eliminated after the first count.
Following the distribution of Padden and Corrigan’s votes, the next to go was Achill’s Pat Kilbane and with 947 votes to distribute Micheál McNamara’s supporters knew they only needed 239 transfers to see him reach the quota of 1,812. The rate of McNamara’s success had even surprised many of his supporters who were rushing into the hall to ensure they didn’t miss the celebrations.
Unsurprisingly McNamara got the bulk of Kilbane’s transfers with the 314 he received sending him 77 votes over the quota. Coyle received 230 votes to put him on 1,638, Holmes got 175 to keep him in second place on 1,668 while McAndrew weighted in with 128 to bring him past the thousand mark on 1,110. Conway-Walsh then put further light between herself and Quinn when she received 54 of Kilbane’s transfers compared to only two for Quinn.
Now trailing by 403 votes, if Tim Quinn had any chance of holding onto the seat he first won in 1974, he needed to pick up over 50 per cent of McNamara’s 77 transfers. However, once the results were read out and it revealed he only got three compared to Conway-Walsh’s 15, everyone knew his political career was over.
The Sinn Féin supporters also knew it with the tri-colour’s coming out in anticipation of the celebrations. In the meantime, the second and third seat were up for grabs and the second man to be elected was Gerry Coyle who leapfrogged Holmes after getting 552 of Ian McAndrew’s transfers to pass the quota with 2,202 on the fifth count. However, Holmes would not have to wait long when the 136 votes he got from McAndrew also enough to send him over the quota.
With the seat in the bag for Sinn Féin the only question was would Conway-Walsh reach the quota and true to form she surpassed it by 40 votes sparking jubilant celebrations.