MAYO ELECTION 2019: Many sub-plots at play in Westport with Flynn edging O’Malleys in comeback contest

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 22nd May, 2019 1:30pm

MAYO ELECTION 2019: Many sub-plots at play in Westport with Flynn edging O’Malleys in comeback contest

HAVING been restored to an electoral area in its own right, Westport is guaranteed an additional voice on Mayo County Council after the forthcoming local elections.

And, interestingly, those at the head of the queue seeking to secure that mandate are three former members of the authority.

Austin Francis O'Malley and Johnny O'Malley were both elected for Fine Gael in the 2004 local elections and subsequently served two terms before losing out a decade later when the Westport area was incorporated into a West Mayo Municipal District.

Peter Flynn also contested the 2004 election for Fine Gael, losing out to Johnny O'Malley for the last seat by 128 votes. He made amends in 2009 when winning a seat alongside the two O'Malleys.

By the time the next local elections came around in 2014, he announced he was walking away from public life in frustration at his party's plans to rationalise the local government system by scrapping town councils.

In a letter to the minister driving this change, Phil Hogan, he described Mayo County Council as being an organisation in chaos and without a future.

"Six months after joining Mayo County Council in 2009, it became clear to me that most people were simply there to clock in the hours and it was a farce, with councillors quickly becoming institutionalised," he argued.

Now, refreshed and revitalised, he is seeking a return to the scene of his greatest political frustrations as he would 'love to play a part in the change that is coming and try and return Mayo County Council to some of its former glories'.

It is, to be fair, an honourable aspiration and, if successful, he will bring a fresh cutting edge to the council chamber.

Flynn could also end up being elected with both O'Malleys losing out in what would represent a fascinating reversal of the 2004 result.

While Louisburgh-based Austin Francis is running under the Fine Gael colours, Kilmeena-based Johnny controversially handed back his membership card earlier this year to contest the election as an independent.

He did so after party HQ failed to engage with him when he lodged a complaint over the manner in which the selection convention was handled.

His appeal centred on the fact a small number of votes were cast in favour of outgoing Councillor Tereasa McGuire despite the fact she was automatically selected in order to achieve a gender balance on the ticket. These votes, O'Malley asserted, caused an imbalance to the outcome which resulted in him losing out.

O'Malley is not the first former Fine Gael councillor to fall out with his party after a candidate selection convention in Westport.

In the aftermath of the convention leading up to the 2014 local elections, Christy Hyland, then an outgoing Fine Gael town councillor, tendered his resignation papers because of his firm belief that other nominees conspired to block him securing a nomination.

He further embarrassed his old party by contesting the election as an independent and taking a seat at Fine Gael's cost. What a story it was.

Needless to say, Fine Gael has since been working on its own revenge strategy. And while the party looks destined to win back a second seat in Westport - outgoing Councillor Tereasa McGuire and Peter Flynn being the favourites to do so – it won't be at Hyland's cost.

He has strengthened his position since 2014 when he secured 1,160 first preferences.

One suspects outgoing Fianna Fáil Councillor Brendan Mulroy is also working from a stronger base than he was five years ago when, after attracting 913 votes in the first count, he had a long wait before being elected on the 12th count along with Hyland, Gerry Coyle and Paul McNamara, the three of whom failed to reach the quota of 1,900.

The quota is expected to be closer to 1,600 on this occasion and it will be interesting to see how communities like Louisburgh, Kilmeena and Newport approach their efforts to win back their own councillor, reported to be worth in excess of €1 million to an area.

Louisburgh has two candidates, the aforementioned Austin Francis O'Malley (FG) and Chris Maxwell (FF), Kilmeena has Johnny O'Malley and Newport has Darragh McGee (Independent).

Other none-party candidates in the field are Shane Fitzgerald, a former elected member of Leixlip Town Council, and Frank McAlonan.

The Green Party is running Cissy Nayiga, who describes herself as 'an advocate for the environment, sustainability and to ensure that communities can enhance, rather than damage, our local biodiversity'.

Westport is not an area in which a major surprise is expected on this occasion but it can't be completely ruled out.

Prediction: FG (2), Fianna Fáil (1), Independent (1).

 

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