Councillors count their blessings in city count centre

Maxim Kelly gives the low down on the countdown to the formation of the 2024-2029 Galway City Council.

Councillor Helen Ogbu with Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív

Councillor Helen Ogbu with Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív

Count centres are like catnip for political reporters: we just can’t resist visiting them. And politicians – usually button-lipped around pol corrs – tend to want to chat about everything under the sun when ballots are being sorted, as the uniquely democratic adrenalin of fear and anticipation courses through their party-political veins.

Galway City’s votes were counted in Westside Community Centre over the weekend, and into Monday afternoon.

The whole rodeo was ably presided over by Returning Officer Gary McMahon, a public servant with decades of experience only weeks away from retirement. All agreed his stewardship was impeccable, but tiredness told on Monday when he announced the election of the final two seats in Galway City West. When cheers abated after Councillor Níall McNelis was re-elected, noone heard a nearly hoarse McMahon proclaim the final seat for Fianna Fáil’s Peter Keane. This somewhat took the wind out of the Taylors Hill solicitor’s triumphal moment, yet with only 90 votes more than seventh place Niall Murphy (GP ), he was lucky transfers from running mate John Connolly’s surplus got him in on the 14th count.

Murphy, attempting to hold the seat won by Senator Pauline O’Reilly in 2015, decamped to a poorly scheduled dental appointment before the counts were finished, no doubt sensing his political demise as transfers didn’t go his way in the so-called ‘Ward of Death’.

“There’ll probably be less pain at the dentist than there is in here,” a downcast Murphy told the Advertiser, displaying admirable humour in a difficult moment.

Keane paced outside the count centre, pale and visibly nervous about losing his seat, having heated conversations on the phone. This was nothing however compared to his party colleague Michael Crowe who demanded an entire recount of the City East electoral area – as is his legal right – but then perhaps changed his mind when it became clear he was definitely not going to find the votes he needed. The Bohermore man recently qualified as a barrister, and one suspects Fianna Fáil reps around the country will be reaching out to him for electoral legal advice in the future.

Meanwhile, the - as ever - impeccably turned out government chief whip, Galway West's Hildegarde Naughton TD, called in to wish the four new Fine Gael councillors well. One wonders if either the equally stylish Councillor Clodagh Higgins or dapper Eddie Hoare may be a future running mate?

Dev Og v Helen Og?

Eamon O’Cuiv was another TD who decided to visit the centre, strolling around presidentially. He was saluted by Galway’s first elected person of colour, Labour’s Helen Ogbu, who may herself have designs on Áras an Uactharáin. Dev Óg v Helen Og anyone?

Deputy Noel Grealish (Ind ) hobbled in too, on crutches, and telling all who would listen about a steel bolt through his ankle. How did it happen? “I schlipped,” said Grealish, choosing not to enlighten nosey hacks about his private health issues. The former Progressive Democrat agreed it was a good day for his former comrades, with Donal Lyons, Terry O’Flaherty and Declan McDonnell all pocketing big bundles of votes.

It was also a brilliant day for the Labour Party winning three seats, with a teary John McDonagh being elected in City Central after missing out by one vote last time. The invisibility of Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik in Galway city over the closing weeks of the campaign was noted, and the resurgence seems to be a combination of old school canvassing under the direction of local party chairman and former mayor Tom Costello, and the TikTok techniques of Ogbu’s supporters. A beaming McNelis declared it “a great day for the Parish” and was even spotted later telling confused American tourists about Labour’s resurgence.

It was also a mnásome day for the ladies, with one third of Galway City Council’s 18 seats filled by women. All the political ladies wore bright, party colours to the count, compared to the boringly grey suits of most male candidates, with the exception of the casually-dressed Soc Dem, Councillor Alan Curran who arrived by bike. However his three children, Éanna (10 ), Oisín (8 ) and Laoise (5 ) were dressed in the party’s purple, and memorably piled in on him while he was being interviewed live on-air by Galway Bay FM.

Fine Gael’s Clodagh Higgins seemed the most nervous of the ladies, but the psychologist was elected on the 9th count when Jarlath Feeney’s votes were redistributed. Feeney and Kenny Deery were hailed as entrepreneurial independents who might steal a seat in leafy Galway West. Their electoral performances, however, would need to be massively improved. “They both thought [politics] would be easy,” one long-serving councillor sneered off-the-record, “It’s not.”

Mike Cubbard, another politician who avoids the suit, topped the City Central poll for a record third time. He graciously offered advice to first time councillors of all parties, and told The Advertiser they could ring him any time. It seems an eternity since the young Cubbard was campaigning in his three-stripe track suit for the 2011 general election, as he is certainly an elder statesman of Galway politics now, with a massive 1,486 first preferences as proof.

It was perhaps Fine Gael’s Frank Fahy though who really proved his political seniority on the day of his fourth election. He was out canvassing for the 2029 elections already, and dealing with constituent representations already. “We’ve five years to sort out the place again,” he said. “No better day to start than today.”

Ogbu had a strong evangelical Christian contingent amongst her supporters, and at one stage they prayed quietly in the corner. One of the tired journalists said he hoped they were praying there would not be a general election called in the coming months. Now wouldn't that be a blessing...?


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