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Fine Gael four hold firm

Fine Gael four hold firm

Edwin McGrealEdwin McGreal

FIVE years ago the achievement of Fine Gael getting four out of the six seats in Ballina was the result of the 2004 local elections in Mayo. That they managed to retain those four seats is nearly as noteworthy but the story in Ballina is the election of Independent candidate Gerry Ginty at the expense of Fianna Fáil.
With two outgoing councillors – Johnnie O’Malley and Annie May Reape – and a strong third candidate in Crossmolina’s Michael Loftus, there was intense speculation that local euphoria over the appointment of Dara Calleary as a Minister for State might help the party to three of the six seats.
But, in a pattern reflected all over Mayo, Fianna Fáil in Ballina had a nightmare and only ended up with one seat – that held by Annie May Reape.
Fine Gael comfortably held on to their four seats and Gerry Ginty caught everyone by surprise to race in and take the final seat after a recount.
It was a weekend of dramatic swings from start to finish. With the first tallies appearing a little before noon, Fianna Fáil were in a world of trouble and talk of the 4-1-1 breakdown was at an advanced stage.
But the first count figures, when they arrived, showed Fianna Fáil poised to capitalise providing that reasonable vote management came into play as the party’s first preference vote was over two quotas.
If whoever of O’Malley or Loftus was eliminated first could transfer reasonably to the other, two seats were a distinct probability.
But from Ginty’s point of view it was very important that it was Johnnie O’Malley that was eliminated, which will become clear further down.
Michael Loftus was six votes ahead of O’Malley after the first count and he made the crucial drive ahead of O’Malley when he benefited to the tune of 170 transfers from the elimination of David Moffatt and Bernard Flynn.
O’Malley only received 53 votes and was doomed.
It was the distribution of his votes that will most gall Fianna Fáil. Whilst Ginty and O’Malley might both live in Ballina, that Ginty received 171 transfers from O’Malley compared to only 149 for Loftus is where it all fell down for Fianna Fáil. It was yet another example of unpredictable transfers in Mayo.
Had O’Malley stayed ahead of Loftus it was hard to see him not benefiting significantly greater from Loftus than Ginty would have.
Loftus did benefit from the distributions of the surpluses of Reape and Seamus Weir but only enough to close the gap to 19 votes and while he did call a recount, it only changed the difference by one vote, Loftus conceded and the initial result stood.
Fine Gael comfortably took the four seats in Ballina – a very worrying proposition for Dara Calleary were a general election to be called within 12 months. The Fianna Fáil party vote in the area is down 9.5% from 2004 and with Calleary’s general election rival of 2007 Michelle Mulherin comfortably exceeding the quota on the first count, there is lots to ponder.
Eddie Staunton looked like he could be in trouble heading into the election with well known Crossmolina candidates David Moffatt and Michael Loftus competing against him in his backyard but his vote held strong, losing only 12 first preference votes from 2004 and dwarfing Loftus’ totals around Crossmolina.
Jarlath Munnelly was expected to struggle with the loss of large swathes of his core area to the Belmullet Electoral Area but he managed to actually increase his first preference by just shy of 50%. He took a phenomenal 72.79% of the Killala vote - one of the largest percentages in the county.
While their fourth candidate Seamus Weir might have said that Fine Gael got the four seats in spite of themselves, it was still an incredible performance.
But it is Gerry Ginty who steals the limelight. A general election candidate in 1997 when he polled 1,656 votes, Ginty stepped back from Ballina Town Council in 1999. Like Frank Durcan in Castlebar he put his name back in the frame again and his timing was spot on.
He didn’t canvass too far outside Ballina and 919 of his votes came from the town boxes and Culleens. But picking up handful of votes in places like Knockanello, Killala and Ardagh turned out to be hugely important in pushing him over the line.