Anna Marie Flynn
AFTER claiming three of the nine seats in Ballina Town Council, Fianna Fail has now rubber-stamped north Mayo’s urban election as its most successful in Mayo. And when the configuration forms around the table in the Chamber of Ballina Civic Offices at Arran Place, the returned FF faces will take up their largest numerical residence on a Mayo town council, after the party strategy fell on its face in Westport and completely disintegrated in Castlebar.
But anything resembling a ‘strategy’ was no roaring success in the Salmon Capital either – while high-profile outgoing councillor Johnnie O’Malley romped home on the first count, he had to wait all day and all night – suffering a devastating county council defeat along the way - before being joined by a party colleague. In the scrap for the last three seats; two experienced FF town councillors, with work to their credit, McAndrew and Nolan, both equipped with huge swathes of home areas in the town and the Quay respectively, were left fighting for life – and alongside their team-mates, newcomers Michael Downey and Sandra Cribben.
Nolan and McAndrew were elected, after picking up thin-on-the-ground transfers that translated - in the end - to major lifelines. Neither met the quota. At the dying moments, it was Cribben who was left sore, losing out to McAndrew for the final seat.
So while FF could not pull anything out of the bag to replace the huge political personality of Padraig Moore, who opted out of the race earlier this year, it just managed to allocate three seat holders.
But in Ballina, the drama surrounds the six seats that were victoriously claimed by Fine Gael and Independents. In comparison to the government leaders, FG made the race look effortless in the same way Sonia O’Sullivan crosses the line at parents’ day without even losing a breath.
Mulherin, took an unrivalled 773 votes automatically returning her to the top table. She had to wait just five minutes, before being flanked by first-timer and political natural, Barry McLoughlin. They were subsequently joined by outgoing Mark Winters leaving FG’s with just one casualty - first-timer Brian Martin who faced early elimination.
It’s no surprise that the north Mayo town, like the rest of the country, saw anti-government trends fuelling the success story of FG. Ballina, dogged by the tag ‘unemployment blackspot’ with a record 2000 people on the dole, has sought, and achieved, change on its urban council.
For Mulherin, Mayo’s youngest female county councillor, June 6 was her day in the sun. A disappointing Senad experience, coupled with an oh-so-close performance during the 2007 general election meant she has earned her stripes the hard way – and is now reaping the rewards of profile propagation. Armed with enthusiasm, Mulherin is now on course to further last weekend’s success with a colourful political career in the future.
But while she was always tipped to do well, it was Independent Gerry Ginty who undeniably stole the socialist show. The comeback candidate defied his critics to gain first count entry to the chamber, taking a mammoth 14% of the 4590 poll.
A pledge to work without claiming expenses, and a government-attacking campaign promising to ‘stop the waste’ attracted a revolting electorate and the business man left his competitors well and truly in the shade.
Also returned was Ind Peter Clarke. After the tallies, Clarke said he was ‘over the moon’ to see he was on course to retain his seat, proving that his rushed campaign paid off.
A smiling Mary Kelly will also be by his side after five years of hard work upped her profile. So, in Ballina the result, while loosely predicted, is an interesting one. FG is in a strong position with three very able voices in the chamber. Joined by the three Independents, who are sure to have extremely strong ideologies; the six will present a very solid alternative to FF. One the other side is one very sore FF urban councillor; who will no doubt be temporarily tarnished by the loss of his county seat, and his two colleagues who will be breathing a sigh of relief just to be there.