Anna Marie Flynn
THE Ballina Town Council count kicked off to somewhat of a deceptive start in Ballina Sports and Leisure Centre with four candidates deemed elected on the very first count. But despite almost half of the seats already being claimed by the three o’clock first round, there was a long day in store before the final five saw their eventual holders.
Early tallies revealed the beginning of what was to be a success story of epic proportions: Fine Gael’s Michelle Mulherin’s magnificent performance at the polls. By 11am the tallymen told the tale of Mulherin’s estimated 739 first preference votes, which would place her with 290 votes surplus to requirements. When the real story was written after the first count results some four hours later, the picture coming into focus was even more impressive. The Brook native took a staggering 773 strokes, and with a quota of 453, she had a mammoth 320 to spare. Taking the title of poll-topper from its 2004-owner, Fianna Fail’s Johnnie O’Malley, Mulherin celebrated election on the first count, increasing her existing vote by over 300.
Closely following her was former councillor, Independent Gerry Ginty. Early indications estimated a whopping vote catch of 665 number one votes and the first count saw just four added to that tally, proving his ‘Stop the Waste’ campaign ensured he romped home with a total of 669. Claiming the second seat with a 216-strong surplus, Ginty had successfully capitalised on the anti-government trend to make his heroic comeback.
First-timer, FG’s Barry McLoughlin was the third home and dry, with a huge 488 votes. As was widely expected, the former proprietor of Caffolla’s Restaurant, showed his highly-visual campaign was enough to comfortably secure a seat.
The first count was also very good to outgoing FF councillor Johnnie O’Malley revealing a 462-strong vote. Marginally down, indications accurately showed fate ordained it was to be the outgoing Town and County Councillor’s only victory of the day. That said, as anticipated the anti-government backlash was not enough to push him out of his urban seat.
FG took the party’s third seat in as many counts. Outgoing Mark Winters, took the lions’ share of the surplus from running mate, Mulherin and ensured his return with 26 votes from the dispersal of Ginty’s transfers.
Newly-independent republican, Peter Clarke, fresh from his split with Sinn Fein, didn’t have long to wait for his moment of glory with a fourth count victory. Flanked by a bevy of support, the O’Rahilly Street resident picked up 56 transfers to make the quota with one vote to spare.
With six seats filled relatively easily, the fight to the finish for the final three was a battle almighty. Eliminations of FG’s Brian Martin and Independent Bernard Flynn - meant that FF first-time candidates, Michael Downey and Sandra Cribben were putting it up to their outgoing party mates, Willie Nolan and Frances McAndrew. Three of the four FF continued on after the elimination of Downey, son of the late PJ; while Ind Ray Collins, despite picking up steady transfers, was next in line to fall foul to elimination.
In dramatic finish it was not until the tenth and final count that the last three seats were allocated owners. Independent Mary Kelly claimed the seventh seat and was joined by fellow outgoing councillors McAndrew and Nolan, polling well below the quota on 355 and 382 respectively.
The fall out was a bitterly disappointing end for courageous first-timer Cribben, the Chamber of Commerce CEO who added her name to the FF ticket amid much furore last January. In the end a mere 25 votes separated her from her nearest rival, McAndrew, ensuring the latter, who has sat on Ballina Town Council for ten years, returned to the fold in the final moments of the contest.
The concluding picture is one of subtle but significant change in Ballina Town Council with Fine Gael gaining one in the shape of McLoughlin. Unsuccessful in filling the vacated space of Padraig Moore, FF has returned three outgoing O’Malley, Nolan and McAndrew; but it is the three remaining claimants that are arguably the most interesting: Outgoing Ind Mary Kelly; former SF-turned-Ind, Peter Clarke; and the most successful comeback king of all, Ind Gerry Ginty. And while time will tell where the balance of power lies, the three-three-three split sees a very interesting socialist-coloured picture unfolding in the north Mayo capital, sandwiched between the powers of a boosted FG and reduced FF.