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Drama aplenty in final seat duel

Drama aplenty between FF and Sinn Féin in final seat duel

Edwin McGrealEdwin McGreal

THE first five elected to Mayo County Council from Castlebar were obvious from before noon on Saturday. Eugene McCormack’s name was on the sixth seat too from a long way out but, if we were spared drama for the first six seats, we got it in spades for the final seat.
It turned out to be the 31st and last seat filled on Mayo County Council and was arguably the most tense and intriguing of the weekend.
All day Sunday it looked predictable - that Sinn Féin’s Thérése Ruane would take the final seat to complete a memorable weekend for the party.
She had been 98 votes ahead of Blackie Gavin after the first count and stretched the gap to 156 after Harry Barrett’s elimination and the distribution of Frank Durcan’s surplus.
Ordinarily she would have been regarded as a sitting duck as the next vote was the distribution of Mickey Feeney’s votes - Gavin’s FF colleague - but the widespread feeling was that Feeney’s votes were going to go in every direction.
This had already occurred in Swinford and Ballina when Michael Smyth and Michael Loftus respectively both lost out from poor transfers from party colleagues and it looked like it would be no different in Castlebar.
But in a rare break from despair, Fianna Fáil managed to finish the weekend on an unexpected high with a huge transfer of votes from one side of the fragmented party in Castlebar to the other.
Gavin took 427 of Feeney’s 1,032 votes to overtake Ruane by, eventually, 144 votes and the party had managed something of an anomaly in Castlebar - only getting one from nine in the town council but two from seven in the county.
The count had been the longest local count of the weekend - the first to start at 10am Saturday morning and the last to finish a little after 1am on Monday morning.
A recount had been called on Saturday after only three votes separated the bottom two candidates - Labour’s Harry Barrett behind Fianna Fáil’s Mickey Feeney at the end of the seventh count. That recount, on Sunday, didn’t help Barrett - in fact he lost 11 votes and the quota was reduced by two.
Before the recount was called the first four seats were filled. Independent Michael Kilcoyne’s vote was phenomenal. The early tallies showed him cleaning up all over the area as the votes flew in. His election was inevitable long before the first count as he nearly doubled his 2004 total.
Henry Kenny also flew in on the first count. Enda Kenny’s older brother saw his first preference vote jump from 1,581 to 1,926 with a huge vote in the east and north of the area.
Nearly as remarkable as Kilcoyne was the performance of Al McDonnell. With Fianna Fáil in trouble all over the county, McDonnell incredibly managed to increase his vote by 396 from five years ago. One of those votes was, presumably, his own, which he didn’t have in 2004. Boundary changes certainly helped McDonnell’s vote but it is still exceptional and likely to be much more of a personal vote than a party vote, something McDonnell admitted.
His neighbour in the south of the area Cyril Burke also commanded a commendable first preference vote of 1,747 and his election was one of the final acts before returning officer John Condon acceded to Barrett's recount request.
Frank Durcan’s return to the council for the first time in 20 years might have been delayed by the recount but it was a postponement of the inevitable. A first preference total of 1,574 was a rock-solid base and his vote came from every part of the area.
Paddy McGuinness comfortably took a seat for FG in 2004 but it was not a foregone conclusion that the party would hold onto three seats. It was Eugene McCormack who was always the most likely to be in the mix and while early tallies had him sweating, the first count declaration of 1,084 left him in good shape.
Huge transfers of 672 votes from three eliminated candidates - running mate Kevin Guthrie, Labour’s Harry Barrett and FF’s Mickey Feeney help hoist him past the quota while an ability to get 215 first preferences from the wider Islandeady area, his native turf, was also key.