Fine Gael’s first elected councillor, newcomer Christy Hyland, is congratulated by local deputy Michael Ring.
Historic majority for Fine Gael on Westport Town Council
WELL before lunchtime on Saturday last Fine Gael’s Deputy Michael Ring had a broad smile on his face at the count centre in Knockranny House Hotel, Westport. Six weeks earlier he had sat in another hotel in the town and introduced five candidates – including two newcomers – for the town council elections. Confidentially, he announced that they could all be elected.
Shortly before 8pm last Saturday night, Cllr Myles Staunton observed from the podium in Knockranny, that ‘it was the first time in the history of the State that Fine Gael had a majority, five seats, on Westport Town Council’.
To paraphrase Michael Ring, it was ‘a blue day for Mayo’, and categorically a blue day for Westport. While it was a foregone conclusion that outgoing Independent Cathaoirleach Martin Keane would romp home – he topped the poll and was elected after the first count – the big surprise was that newcomer, Christy Hyland was biting at his heels, exceeding the quota and also elected on the first count.
At this early stage, it was clear that outgoing Fine Gael councillors Tereasa McGuire and Myles Staunton were on course to be elected next; with McGuire significantly increasing her first preference vote on 2004 but Staunton’s dropping by almost 50 votes.
At this early stage, it was also clear that Sinn Féin’s 2004 poll-topper, Dave Keating was in some trouble. His 277 first preferences had dropped dramatically to a paltry 95 and although he held on until the eighth count, his fate was ominous.
Despite Labour’s Keith Martin’s high-profile and colourful campaign, he too looked worried for much of the day. Ironically, his first preference vote (132) was just one less than in 2004 when he was ultimately the last candidate to be elected -– after the twelfth count –just behind Fianna Fáil’s Brendan Mulroy, without reaching the quota. A second irony was that he was again elected after the last count – the eleventh – just ahead of Brendan Mulroy this time, both of them having failed to reach the quota.
Fine Gael’s Michael McLaughlin, reached the quota after receiving 15 of former Fianna Fáil Cllr Declan Dever’s distributed votes. McLaughlin’s party colleague, Ollie Gannon, who lost his seat in 2004 was just one vote ahead of him when he was also elected after the final count.
If Fianna Fáil was receiving a battering and bruising – as expected – there was little sign of party apparatchiks skulking in the shadows. Led by local cumann chairman, Harry Hughes, their computerised number crunching machine was generously made available to all interested parties – including the media – as they engaged with the vagaries of the Proportional Representation system, albeit with an air of quiet resignation.
While it may have been clear from the outset that longtime Fianna Fáil Cllr Margaret Adams was certain of a seat, she had a long wait and was finally elected after the ninth count, after being catapulted over the quota with 11 votes from Keating’s distribution.
At this point Brendan Mulroy’s steady lead over party candidates, newcomer Dick Bourke and outgoing Declan Dever, indicated that he would take the second Fianna Fáil seat.
The other Fianna Fail candidate, Tom Flynn, had been eliminated after the fourth count while Labour’s David Fallon and Independent Andy Wilson were the first to be excluded after the third count. Wilson’s late entry onto the ticket effectively splintered the ‘green’ vote, although Green Party candidate Fergus McAllister, who stayed in the race until the seventh count, didn’t gain significantly from transfers. Independent Joe Lavelle suffered the same fate and was eliminated after the sixth count.
At the launch of the Fine Gael campaign, Christy Hyland threw down the gauntlet to the executive of Westport Town Council. He warned that if elected he would prioritise accessibility to the corridors of the council for the general public. The retired garda, who prides himself on shooting straight from the hip will have every opportunity to achieve that now. Meanwhile, popular press photographer Michael McLaughlin will need to get used to being in the picture rather than taking it.