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MNÁ-SOME! West Cork bucks national trend with 40% of local councillors now female

June 17th, 2024 7:00 AM

By Jackie Keogh

MNÁ-SOME! West Cork bucks national trend with 40% of local councillors now female Image
Social Democrat Ann Bambury celebrates her election at the count centre in Clonakily with family and supporters. (Photo: Martin Walsh)

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A BACKLASH against government parties did not materialise in West Cork as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil held firm in last week’s local elections.

But one of the big stories of the local elections was the good showing of women in the final shake-up.

Among the big winners were the Social Democrats who, while losing Cllr Chris Heinhold’s seat, saw newcomers Isobel Towse elected in the Skibbereen area and Ann Bambury in Bandon-Kinsale.

Isobel Towse (Social Democrats), who was elected to the constituency of Skibbereen-West Cork at the Count Centre in Clonakilty with party leader Holly Cairns. (Photo: Martin Walsh)


Fine Gael’s Caroline Cronin, who had been co-opted into her seat, came back with force by significantly increasing the Fine Gael vote in Bantry.

The election of these, and more female candidates throughout West Cork, saw the region bucking the national trend, and hitting the target which Women for Election want set for the next local government elections – 40%.

Independent candidate, farmer Helen O'Callaghan, who narrowly missed out on a seat in Bantry.


In fact, if Helen O’Sullivan, who narrowly missed out on a seat in Bantry, had made it over the line, the West Cork area would have seen gender parity with a 50/50 make-up on the Council.

‘We’ll have gender parity in Bandon and that’s very welcome,’ said new Cllr Ann Bambury (SD). ‘People want diversity and they want choice and that was definitely coming up on the doors – people want change.’

Independent Ireland's new councillor Daniel Sexton, third from left, with supporters and friends including party leader Michael Collins TD, second from right, at the count in Clonakilty. (Photo: Martin Walsh)


The other story of the elections in West Cork was the rise of TD Michael Collins’ Independent Ireland party as a force, with representatives now in Bantry, Skibbereen and Bandon-Kinsale, but pre-election polls predicting that the government parties would get a drubbing proved incorrect.

People voted locally, often for candidates they knew and believed had ‘done the work’.

It resulted in several sitting councillors being returned to Cork County Council as part of the West Cork Municipal District, which includes five councillors from Skibbereen and four from Bantry, as well as six members of the Bandon-Kinsale district.

Overall, Fianna Fáil have one more councillor – at 19 – than in 2019, while Fine Gael lost two, and are down to 18 members on Cork County Council’s new make-up.

In Macroom, the six standing councillors – including three Fine Gael and two Fianna Fáil – were all returned.

The Social Democrats team checking over stats at the Clonakilty count centre with party leader Holly Cairns TD, standing, and newly-elected Skibbereen Cllr Isobel Towse, second from right. (Photo: Andy Gibson)


In Skibbereen, Fine Gael banked on getting out a vote of 3,000. Former councillor Noel O’Donovan secured a first preference vote of 2,445 and was elected on the fourth count after exceeding the 2,531 quota. His running mate, party colleague Brendan McCarthy, did all that was asked of him and secured 1,384 first preferences, but didn’t pick up sufficient transfers to stay ahead of the chasing pack.

Fine Gael’s Noel O’Donovan is hoisted high after he was elected to Cork County Council for the constituency of Skibbereen-West Cork LEA. (Photo: Martin Walsh)


Even with the bones of an 800-strong FG vote increase, the phenomenal rate of transfers to Social Democrats’ first-time candidate Isobel Towse won the day for her.

School principal McCarthy was excluded after the eighth count. Former garda O’Donovan’s win means that Fine Gael has, once again, a seat in Skibbereen – something they lost when Karen Coakley, who lost her seat, left the party.

Fianna Fáil Cllrs Joe Carroll and Deirdre Kelly retained their seats for the party. Joe hit a high of 2,995, after transfers, in the ninth count, and his 96 transfers to his running mate Deirdre, in the 10th count, were the saving grace she needed to be deemed elected without reaching the quota.

Joe’s transfers put Deirdre’s 81 votes ahead of the third Fianna Fáil candidate on the ticket, Pádraig O’Reilly, who had hoped to be a voice for the people of Clonakilty. Independent Ireland’s first-time candidate Daniel Sexton said he was ‘blown away’ by the support, after he was elected on the 10th count.

Caroline Cronin (FG) with her three daughters Olivia, Shauna and Chloe Ann, was elected in Bantry. (Photos: Martin Walsh)


In the Bantry electoral area, Cllr Caroline Cronin not only retained her seat for Fine Gael, her first preference vote of 1,696 – rising to 2,478 – saw her elected, having reached the quota in the eighth count. Caroline’s performance on her first campaign also increased the party vote. While a sitting councillor, she had been co-opted into the seat, so this was her first election.

In fact, the talk on the day is that she ‘cleaned out’ the first preference votes in both Ballydehob and Schull, taking that top spot from others.

Fine Gael had hoped Caroline’s vote would help bring her running mate Lisheen-based Mary Lou Maguire Leahy across the line, but incredibly strong numbers for Independents Finbarr Harrington and Helen O’Sullivan ruled that out.

In the hot hall, it was a case of waiting to exhale for Fianna Fáil’s Patrick Gerard Murphy – the longest serving councillor in West Cork – who was neck-and-neck with first-time candidate Helen O’Sullivan throughout each of the counts.

Patrick Gerard Murphy (Fianna Fáil) with friends and family following his election to Cork County Council at the count centre in Clonakilty. Fine Gael’s Caroline Cronin (applauding), who was elected for Fine Gael, is on the left. (Photo: Martin Walsh)


In the sixth, it looked as if Helen might streak ahead, having picked up 258 transfers from Social Democrats’ outgoing councillor Chris Heinhold’s distribution, but it was ultimately Patrick’s FF running mate, Danny Crowley, who put him over the 2,000-vote mark and secured for him the fourth seat in the eighth and final count.

In Bandon, where Independent Ireland’s John Collins – brother of Michael and Danny – was second home behind Independent Alan Coleman, FF stood three candidates. The party was disappointed to see outgoing councillor Sean O’Donovan lose his seat, and to see former TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony’s 1,213 votes distributed after the seventh count. Of all of the electoral areas, Bandon was the most brutally crowded.

All returned: Cllrs Joe Carroll, Deirdre Kelly, Patrick Gerard Murphy and Gillian Coughlan following their election in Clonakilty. (Photo: Martin Walsh)


Sitting Fianna Fáil Cllr Gillian Coughlan did retain her seat, having been deemed elected after a massive 486 transfer from Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, which put her over the 2,379 quota.

Fine Gael previously held three seats in the Bandon area – Cllr Marie O’Sullivan, Kevin Murphy, and John O’Sullivan – but Kevin and John decided to retire this year.

Gillian Coughlan (left) of Fianna Fail and Marie O’Sullivan (Fine Gael) both elected to Bandon-Kinsale LEA on the eighth count. (Photo: Martin Walsh)


Marie O’Sullivan was thrilled to take the sixth and final seat without having reached the 2,379 quota.

Cllr Marie O'Sullivan making her point - elected!


But the real surprise was the success of their first-time candidate John Michael Foley from Timoleague. The popular undertaker secured a staggering first preference vote of 2,194 and was elected on the sixth count.

Fine Gael's John MIchael Foley, the undertaker from Timoleague, celebrates with his wife Denise after his election at Clonakilty Count Centre. (Photo: Andy Gibson)


The fact that John Michael polled up to 70% of the votes in certain areas surprised even the most unflappable of Fine Gael’s tallypeople.

Fine Gael’s John Collins, the party’s director of elections for Cork South West, said FG gained 808 votes in the Skibbereen area from 2019, but lost a similar amount in each of the two other electoral areas, which means its overall vote was down by 811 votes in Cork South West. ‘We are at an average of 24% across the constituency which is in keeping with our national figure,’ said Collins. ‘But we ran one less candidate in each of the three areas, which might be a factor in the drop of 4%.’

First-time Social Democrats candidate Ann Bambury received a very impressive 1,800 first preference votes and went on to reach the quota on the seventh count. In the Carrigaline area, Fianna Fáil’s Seamus McGrath, brother of Finance Minister Michael, got the highest first preference vote in the country with an impressive 5,191 votes, prompting specuation – fuelled by himself – that he may seek to follow his brother into Leinster House. Carrigaline returned the only Sinn Féin councillor, with the election of Eoghan Fahy to the last seat.

See how each candidate fared in your local polling station here

The five candidates elected in the Skibbereen-West Cork local electoral area

The six candidates elected in the Bandon-Kinsale local electoral area

The four candidates elected in the Bantry-West Cork local electoral area

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