Donna Hyland is expected to capitalise on Sinn Féin’s growing popularity in the Castlebar district. PHOTO: ALISON LAREDO

Sinn Féin likely to cause an upset in central Mayo cauldron

by Caoimhín Rowland

Conventions, Ard Fheiseanna and seat selections abound as there are just six months left until local elections in early June of 2024.

Sitting councillors are swiftly totting up their achievements, contacting colleagues and deciphering how best to spend the last dribble of funding to ensure they remain seated in council offices next summer.

Local election candidates are already visible on the campaign trail.

Harry Barrett has been working to get elected as an independent for the past six months and this will be his third campaign.

Donna Hyland is already ensuring voters will know who she is before they inevitably tick any or all Sinn Féin boxes on their ballot papers. It remains to be seen if the party adds a second candidate in Castlebar following the withdrawal of Tony Geraghty.

Remember, 3,039 members of the Castlebar electorate voted Sinn Féin in the 2020 general election.

The Social Democrats in Castlebar are planning for an inaugural convention to select their candidate for the district at the end of this month with Lahardane's Aidan Browne understood to be in the frame.

From Finney Bridge on the Galway border to Castlehill in north Mayo, that is the length of the Castlebar Municipal District.

It’s statistically impossible to knock on all doors in the area.

Candidates who are first-timers should be aware of this. That's why having your name confirmed as early as possible will mean you get your position across and your name out there.

Christmas will be here and gone in a flash and time for canvassing will fly by from January to May.

Standing in the count centre on the first week of June often leaves prospective politicians with regrets, not over running because anyone who throws their hat into the ring should be applauded and encouraged. More often it’s a regretful refrain: “I could have done more.”

Seven seats are on offer in the central Mayo district. Cyril Burke of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil’s Martin McLoughlin and Fine Gael’s Donna Sheridan were all elected on the final count, and in that descending order, five years ago without reaching the quota of 1,731.

Joe Daly of People Before Profit also ran in 2019 but failed to get elected.

He is now undertaking an admirable campaign to bring the old hat factory in Castlebar back into some kind of use, even deploying a drone and an online petition to highlight desires to see the disused town centre eyesore as social housing along with well-needed childcare facilities.

If the tale of the Imperial Hotel, Military Barracks and old Post Office, which are all under council ownership, are anything to go by, I look forward to reporting on council plans to apply for funding for it in 2029 with a view to selling it to a private developer in 2035.

Gerry Loftus has been reticent about his plans to run in the local ballot again next year after his 2019 disappointment.

He achieved local political stardom during the Lahardane GP saga (which has not yet come to a conclusion, it should be known).

The hill farmer was also heard last month on Liveline with Katie Hannon discussing ‘the right to roam’.

Posited as the rural landowner at the butt of Nephin, he was articulating his dislike of those Roz Purcell types hiking up his land, grazing on granola and walking up over the mountain.

The topic was insurance and how ‘roamers’ can sue farmers for injury while trespassing, which looks set to change and not before time.

An interesting point to note on Gerry Loftus is that he and Joe Daly were once members of the same party, People Before Profit.

The Labour Party look abysmal in the polls, but local businessman Kamal Uddin is not put off and will be in the field again, his success in opening the new mosque in Castlebar lifting his profile considerably.

New candidates putting their names forward in Castlebar are setting their sights on the final three who snuck over the line in 2019.

Donna Hyland, barring any major setback, will be sure of a seat considering her strong candidacy and the heady heights of her party in the polls. She is well appreciated in Sinn Féin and has been a close confidante of MEP Chris MacManus.

Last Wednesday she will be a headline speaker in Tubbercurry with the former Sligo councillor on the topic of regional imbalance in the western region.

When in Brussels I asked MacManus: "Will you be running in a general election in Sligo since McSharry has stepped down?"

I believe he will top the polls in our northern neighbour's constituency as Marian Harkin refuses to confirm her bid for re-election and Frank Feighan looks febrile.

“My concentration is on Brussels and being re-elected in June,” he told me. Pfft, a good one. Matt Carthy I’m sure said the same.

When MacManus gets elected in Sligo in the general election, will Donna Hyland depart for Brussels as MacManus did as a co-optee for Matt Carthy?

She'll need to be a councillor first, of course.