Five new faces as Sinn Fein wiped out

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john.ocallaghan

THERE are five new faces on Offaly County Council after voters wiped out Sinn Fein in a dramatic election last Friday.

The Green Party, the Social Democrats and the Irish Democratic Party (IDP) will be represented on the council for the first time after Sinn Fein lost all three seats it won at the last election in 2014.

Ken Smollen was elected in the Tullamore Area for the IDP, a party he founded himself prior to the 2016 general election; Pippa Hackett, Geashill, won a seat for the Greens in the Edenderry Area and Clare Claffey, Banagher, was returned in the Birr Area for the Social Democrats.

The election also saw the return to Offaly County Council after a 15-year absence of Sean O’Brien, the Tullamore Independent and former Labour Party representative.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have two new councillors in the chamber. Neil Feighery, parliamentary assistant to Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, won the seat in the Tullamore Area vacated by longserving councillor Tommy McKeigue.

In the Edenderry Area Robert McDermott succeeded the long-time Fianna Fail councillor from the town, Noel Bourke.

The only sitting councillor to lose a seat was Sean Maher, the Sinn Fein candidate in the Birr Area who had been co-opted to the local authority in 2016 after Carol Nolan, who has since left the party because of her opposition to abortion, won a seat in the Dail.

In Tullamore, businessman Tony McCormack, who was co-opted to the council in 2017 when Sinead Dooley left politics for a senior role in Irish Rural Link, successfully defended the seat for Fianna Fail.

The dramatic collapse of Sinn Fein after the breakthrough five years ago became clear shortly after the ballot boxes were opened in Banagher on Saturday morning.

Tallies indicated that the seat formerly held by Brendan Killeavy in Tullamore was definitely gone and that Mr Maher’s in Birr and Alan Davy’s in the Edenderry Area were at risk.

The loss of all three seats was confirmed when the County Council count took place in Mucklagh.

The Sinn Fein share of the first preference vote fell from 17.2 per cent in 2014 to 4.6 per cent on this occasion.

With neither Mr Killeavy, Tullamore poll topper in 2014, and Daingean man Martin O’Reilly, who topped the poll in the Edenderry Area that year, seeking re-election, the party was in deep trouble.

Anne Marie Ennis, a Sinn Fein party constituency worker, and resident of Walsh Island, contested the Tullamore Area but trailed in last of the 12 candidates with only 287 votes. Mr Killeavy received 2,778 in 2014.

In the Edenderry Area Mr Davy was co-opted in place of Mr O’Reilly in January and got 597 first preferences compared to his predecessor’s 1,669.

Mr Maher had the advantage of being a member of the County Council since March 2016 but he won fewer than half the first preferences cast for Deputy Nolan when she was elected five years ago.

Fianna Fail won 40 per cent of the vote across the county – a 6 per cent increase on 2014 - and easily retained its eight seats. The party performance was especially strong in the Tullamore Area, where its four candidates were returned with 47 per cent of the vote.

Though it hoped to do better, Fine Gael also had a good election. Its share of the vote jumped by more than 5 per cent and it retained the three seats won in 2014 and added the fourth it held since last year when the Edenderry Independent, Noel Cribbin, joined the party.

John Leahy, who topped the poll in the Birr Area as an Independent in 2014, was one of the founders of Renua Ireland the following year and subsequently became party leader.

Renua ran three candidates in this election and secured 10.3 per cent of the vote but Mr Leahy was the only one elected.

Two sitting Independents, John Foley, Edenderry, and John Carroll, Birr, were re-elected comfortably.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael jointly controlled the council in its last term but the the larger party said it will review the arrangement in the next couple of weeks.

At 52.6 per cent, the turnout was down on the 58 per cent who voted in 2014.

The state of the parties in advance of the first meeting of the new council on June 7 is – Fianna Fail 8 (Peter Ormond, Eamon Dooley, Eddie Fitzpatrick, Robert McDermott, Frank Moran, Declan Harvey, Danny Owens, Tony McCormack); Fine Gael 4 (John Clendennen, Liam Quinn, Noel Cribbin, Neil Feighery); Renua 1 (John Leahy); Social Democrats 1 (Clare Claffey); Green Party 1 (Pippa Hackett); IDP 1 (Ken Smollen); Independents 3 (John Carroll, John Foley, Sean O’Brien).

The referendum on the proposal to amend the constitutional provision in relation to divorce was carried, 81 per cent of the electorate voting in favour. The turnout was 54 per cent and the count took place in Banagher College.

After being sorted in Banagher, the ballot papers for the European Parliament elections were brought to Cork and at time of writing on Tuesday Sean Kelly (Fine Gael) had been elected and Billy Kelleher (Cork), Mick Wallace (Independents4Change), Liadh Ni Riada (Sinn Fein) and Grace O’Sullivan (Green Party) were best placed to win seats as counting continued.

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