CARTHY THE STAR OF EUROPEAN AND LOCAL ELECTIONS

30 May 2014 No Comments by The Northern Standard

By MICHAEL McDONNELL
michael@northern-standard.ie

THE headwind was behind Sinn Féin yet again when the local and European election results began to crystallise, with the undeniable star of the show being Matt Carthy, whose massive first preference in the Midlands–North-West was finally given the official stamp when he was declared elected on the seventh count — heralding a whole new political landscape on the European front, where the Monaghan representative is joined by Liadh Ní Riada in Ireland South and Lynn Boylan in Dublin.

The Sinn Féin trio’s success — one in each of the constituencies this side of the Border — marked a perfect hat-trick for Sinn Féin on the European end, and was reflected at local level throughout the country was well, where growing discontentment with the Fine Gael/Labour administration saw the party’s share of the vote nationally rise to 15.2%.

While that may be a little short of what the opinion polls had been suggesting, it manifests a continuing and steady growth in support, expanding a base Sinn Féin will be hoping to continue to build on — even if the current popularity being enjoyed by a profusion of independents and smaller groupings begins to wane.

In Monaghan, the entire election process and the subsequent count was overshadowed by the sudden, unexpected death on polling day of outgoing Fine Gael county councillor Owen Bannigan, which gave cause to all those involved in the political toing and froing to pause and put it all into perspective.

Cllr Bannigan’s untimely passing also meant that the ballots in the Ballybay-Clones electoral area were deemed void, and the election for that municipal district is being run again on Saturday-week next, 7th June.

But life must go on, and so it was that the election counts proceeded in the Monaghan and Carrickmacross-Castleblayney areas, with candidates and supporters gathering for the count at the Sean McDermotts complex in Threemilehouse from early on Saturday morning.

As far as the results went, there were few surprises in the Monaghan area, where the six outgoing contenders were duly returned. In Carrick-’Blayney, the most obvious stand-out factor was the huge personal vote pulled in by Carthy, whose 1,970 first preference was over 500 above the quota and formed a significant part of the huge 42% Sinn Féin vote that brought Noel Keelan and Jackie Crowe home.

Crowe had to sweat it out before finally securing the seat just 10 votes ahead of Fine Gael’s Aidan Murray, after a day of speculation on whether it would be two seats to each party, or whether Sinn Féin could edge in the third and Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael would lose out. In the end it was FG and Murray that lost the seat, as FF’s PJ O’Hanlon and Padraig McNally held on.

On the Castleblayney side of the new district, Aidan Campbell polled very well, and his 1,355 tally earned him the seat on count two. Former Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Conlon was disappointed, however, reaping only 691 number ones and being eliminated on the fifth count.

In the Monaghan area, it was clear from the early tallies accumulated shortly after lunchtime that Independent Seamus Treanor and Sinn Féin’s Brian McKenna would be home on the first count and racing to top the poll. McKenna pipped his rival by four votes with a very impressive haul of 1,336 when the count was eventually confirmed at 7.20pm.

Robbie Gallagher’s proven vote-getting ability saw him elected shortly afterwards, on count number three, and it was always obvious that David Maxwell and Sean Conlon would also make onto the new council. It gradually became more and more likely that outgoing Independent Paudge Connolly was also going to make it back, at the expense of the third Sinn Féin runner, Siobhan Cheung.

The only hiccup in the process came when Fine Gael’s Barra Flynn was granted a recount when he was about to be eliminated on count seven and on 770 votes, just five behind Cheung. In the event, the count stood, but it meant that the poll would not be completed until Sunday.

NO WOMEN COUNCILLERS YET
One of the striking aspects of the results in both Monaghan and Carrick-’Blayney is that every one of the 12 candidates elected is a man, leaving it up to the Ballybay-Clones area to bring one, two — or three? — of the fairer sex to the Co Council table.

While only “two thirds” of the county can be looked at in percentage terms, the 38% secured by Sinn Féin, 24.7% by Fine Gael, and 22.7% by Fianna Fáil in first preferences across the two areas where the results are in can be compared for now with the overall percentages each party achieved in the county in the 2009 local elections. These were Sinn Féin (27.63%), Fianna Fáil (29.19%) and Fine Gael (29.85%).

The continuing Sinn Féin rise is obvious, even in Monaghan where it was felt the party had less room to expand than in other parts of the country.

EUROPEAN CHANGES
Meanwhile, back on the European front, Matt Carthy’s 114,727 saw him take second place in the poll, not far behind Luke “Ming” Flanagan’s 124,063. If the ultimate result is borne out (subject to the recheck sought by Pat the Cope Gallagher), the sprawling 15-county Midlands–North West constituency will have only one “establishment party” figure in Europe, namely Mairead McGuinness of Fine Gael, with no Fianna Fáil representative at all — a scenario that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.

The impressive poll achieved by Carthy also makes one wonder how many votes he might have attracted had the high-profile Flanagan not been in the race and drawing many “protest” votes that might otherwise have arguably gone in the Sinn Féin man’s direction.

Saturday was a long day for the punters and candidates in the Threemilehouse centre, where they all had to wait until between 7.20pm and 7.30pm before the initial results, already well known from the lunchtime tallies, were made “official” and the first counts in both Monaghan and Carrickmacross-Castleblayney were announced by returning officer Paul Clifford.

The subsequent counts in both areas began come in at a slowly increasing pace from that point on, but while hopes arose that all the results would be wrapped up on the night, it emerged in the early hours that recounts were being called for in both contests, thereby ensuring a return to the centre on Sunday. The Monaghan count was halted at 12.50am when Fine Gael’s Barra Flynn was granted a recheck, while at about 2am, a recount was also confirmed in Carrick-’Blayney after Aidan Murray came just 10 votes behind Jackie Crowe in the race for thesixth and last seat.

THANKS
Following the wrap-up counts on Sunday, Returning Officer Paul Clifford gave thanks to the candidates for the cooperation that he and his team had received from each of them. He also gave thanks to the counting team for their hard work throughout Saturday and well into Sunday, and to Ciaran McEntee, the volunteers and caterers at the Sean McDermotts centre for their facilities and the support that had been provided. He gave thanks as well to the gardai for their assistance throughout, and also Bernie Smith and the Courts Service staff, and Co Registrar Joe Smith, for their cooperation and assistance. Finally, and poignantly, referring to the death of outgoing county councillor and election candidate Owen Bannigan, Mr Clifford said this “puts it all into perspective”, and offered condolences on behalf of everyone to the Bannigan family on the loss they were experiencing.

Remarking that, “He should have been here celebrating today,” Mr Clifford said Monaghan Co Council would surely miss Cllr Bannigan. He noted that the outgoing Co Council members would be holding a meeting on the following afternoon (Monday) to pay their respects to Owen, and on that note called a minute’s silence for the late mid-Monaghan, Lough Egish-based councillor.

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