Checking the spoilt ballots in the Castlebar Electoral Area. PHOTO: ALISON LAREDO

Urban centre reclaims power as Sinn Féin lose their way in Mayo

By Caoimhín Rowland

Geography is destiny in Castlebar as candidates with a town base hold key advantage.

Even sitting councillors in more rural areas to the south of Castlebar, like Cyril Burke and Al McDonnell, have business offices operating in the town.

A major talking point in the aftermath of Sinn Féin’s poor poll was the disappearance of the 3,000 votes Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh garnered in the county town's urban estates in the 2020 general election and her subsequent decision not to open a constituency office in the town - instead opting for both clinics to operate in Belmullet and Ballina.

Donna Sheridan, a native of Balla, is currently a resident in the town, while the newcomer to the chamber, Harry Barrett, despite being an Erris man originally, is a through and through Castlebar man now.

The town has the largest population in the county and to get elected in the municipal district, you have to have personal or party apparatus in the town.

There’s no point denying this. Tourmakeady and Lahardane have lakes, mountains and scenery, but, yet again, no local representation.

This factor certainly played a factor in Martin McLoughlin’s elimination.

Islandeady and Cornacool doesn’t pass muster any more beside an urban behemoth.

Ultimately without an affiliation in the heart of Mayo there is minimal chance of election in Castlebar Municipal District. Smaller parishes will move the needle but never land a striking blow.

The future of Mary Lou McDonald will continue to make headlines into the coming weeks. Her position is ultimately untenable, posters of her face calling for change landed poorly, particularly in rural Ireland.

Her supporters may blame misogyny (of which a great deal is involved) but Leo Varadkar similarly approached a ‘Presidential’ style poster campaign in 2020, attempting to ride high on the back of successful Brexit negotiations, and that plan too backfired.

Canvassers on the doorstep reported negativity about their party leader Mary Lou but many expressed favourability towards Michelle O’Neill. Opinion polls have also reflected this fact.

Who could replace Mary Lou?

Rose Conway-Walsh would have to be in contention along with Pearse Doherty.

It would be a clever stroke to anoint a rural leader of the party, allowing them to sledge Fine Gael without an address inside the M50.

Fianna Fáil is back with a bang in east Mayo as support slides in Ballina and Castlebar.

Adrian Forkan rightly earned plaudits on the political stage last weekend.

He received a monster vote in Kiltimagh and some old fashioned trysts with constituency colleague John Caulfield bringing out a strong vote for the soldiers of destiny.

In Mayo, Fianna Fáil are geographically peripheral.

Strong in Achill, Erris, Kiltimagh and Kilkelly but lacking fresh names in Ballina and Castlebar.

With Senator Lisa Chambers’ future in politics in the balance as she bids for Brussels, the party will need a name to reinvigorate their base.

Forkan may well be that man for Calleary’s men in Mayo. Why not?

Mayo County Council will have two new political parties and quite a few new faces in its chamber when the first meeting is called later this month.

Both Aontú and Independent Ireland indicate a shift to the right from the local Mayo electorate in east and west Mayo.

Chris Maxwell was a last minute addition to the Independent Ireland squad in the county, hosting an event with Michael Fitzmaurice in Hotel Newport in the week before the poll.

Mark Devane of Irishtown received 5% of the vote in Claremorris, an impressive chunk from the first time candidate and it will be heartening to lay foundations for the party for future elections.

Donal Geraghty similarly had a solid performance under the banner of Ciaran Mullooly’s party.

Peadar Toibin will be delighted to have representation in the west via Paul Lawless from Knock.

A hard graft reaped dividends for the teacher and he will be a fresh voice in the chamber, unlikely to ever mince his words.

A suggestion that Lawless’ election was not due to the party brand is worth consideration.

Lawless will aim to launch another general election bid later in the year as he’ll now have an increased profile in the county.

The local elections in Mayo have certainly thrown up an abundance of talking points.

Best of luck to the newly-elected councillors.

I will be watching closely.