FOR anyone acquainted with photographer Michael McLaughlin they won’t be surprised to hear that the first time town councillor wasn’t at the Westport count centre when his victory was announced around 7pm on Saturday night last. Being fair he was busy over at the Traveller’s Friend centre taking photographs of other victorious candidates for The Mayo News. McLaughlin is renowned – fondly – for his rather creative concept of timing. Uncharacteristically, his timing was just perfect for putting his name forward on the Fine Gael ticket in 2009. It was his election as the fifth Fine Gael councillor for the upcoming local government term that ensured an overall majority and that history was made for ‘Ringo’s Army’ – as they were termed last Saturday in the balmy and ebullient hallways of Knockranny House Hotel.
Whether his neophyte running mate Christy Hyland is immediately decorated with the Cathaoirleach’s chain – as suggested by Fianna Fáil’s Margaret Adams – remains to be seen; one thing for sure though the formality of the chamber will not wither the retired garda into a shrinking violet.
Speaking after his early election, he confided that the day had been ‘an emotional rollercoaster’
“I worked very hard, but I was getting a great response on the doors, people were angry, they were fed-up. I’m known to hold strong opinions and expressing them and I intend to do so in the chamber. My priority is bringing democracy back to the people,” said Hyland.
He added: “The Ring machine delivered for all the Fine Gael candidates.”
His party colleague, Tereasa McGuire, always eloquent and philosophical, observed that it was ‘a day when democracy had worked in favour of Fine Gael’.
Shortly after her election, she remarked to The Mayo News: “I’m so happy at the faith people have put in Fine Gael. For the first time the grassroots have made their mark and let that message go back to central government. The winds of change are about.”
This was echoed by Myles Staunton, who said he was delighted at the number of votes he had received. “I’m grateful to the people of Westport for such a solid vote. In the Fine Gael team we had a vote management arrangement, which has worked,” he said.
“Fianna Fáil are losing throughout the county and the country today. The overwhelming message on the doorsteps was that people were not only disillusioned but they were furious at the incompetence, displayed at the highest level,” continued Staunton.
On the historic majority, he concluded: “We are very conscious of the responsibility we have now been given in holding the majority on the town council. A priority has to be that the council is accessible to all, young and old, rich and poor.”
It may have been Fine Gael’s day but, in light of the national Fianna Fáil meltdown, the tenacity of consummate local politician Margaret Adams – a member of Westport Town Council for 35 years – must be marked.
“It’s great to be back,” she said. “While we are defeated in numbers, I’d like to remind the other side of the house that we will be challenging them.”
For outgoing cathaoirleach and poll-topper Martin Keane he noted it was his fourth time to be elected. “There is no room for division on the town council; we must act with one voice for one community.”
Empathising with Declan Dever and Dave Keating, Ollie Gannon recalled that at the same podium five years ago he urged his supporters ‘not to worry’ that he would make a lazarene return and ‘be back’ at the coalface of local politics.
Meanwhile, a relieved Keith Martin used the dramatic lyricism of Rudyard Kipling to encapsulate his knife-edge day: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same.”
For the last home, Brendan Mulroy the exit of his former colleague Declan Dever was uppermost in his thoughts.