New Beginnings For County Councillors

Due to the abolition of the town councils, many newly elected councillors have found themselves in a different political situation since the Local Elections. The new large numbered councils make up eighteen, or twenty, or twenty-five councillors, or even more in the case of Dublin. Previous town councils numbered an average of nine councillors.

The seven new Athlone municipal councillors experienced life, Mullingar style at their first council meeting last week. The seven are part of a twenty person council. A joint alliance of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael members will run Westmeath County Council for the next five years, with FF’s Paddy Hill (a councillor since 1974) becoming Chairman.

The newly structured county council has a greatly reduced Labour membership, with just two members down from seven before the Local Elections.  Westmeath is the main heartland of Labour (outside of Dublin) and poll-topper, Willie Penrose TD. Sinn Fein have three members, led by Athlone’s Cllr. Paul Hogan. Previously they had none. Hogan was SFs Longford/Westmeath by-election candidate, and got 7,548 first preference votes.

The council have two Independent members, poll-topper Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, and newcomer, Cllr. Michael O’Brien, both of the Athlone Municipal district. Interestingly Boxer and O’Brien are former Fianna Fail members, and Boxer recently got 5,629 votes in the Longford/Westmeath by-election.

In the packed visitor’s gallery, Westmeath TDs, Gabrielle McFadden and Robert Troy watched proceedings and their party councillors interacting.

Fianna Fail sat in an eight seat bunch, close to the two Labour members. The five Fine Gael councillors sat across from their new allies. The three Sinn Fein members sat with just one seat between them and the two Independent members.

Former Cathaoirleach, Cllr. Peter Burke (a two-time FG General Election candidate) remained in the chair to allow the new regime get started.

The Fianna Fail members proposed and seconded Cllr. Hill. It was looking like the vote would be unanimous, until one of the new Sinn Fein councillors, Una O’Neill Darcy proposed Cllr. Hogan for the chair. It was seconded by their colleague, Cllr. Sorcha Clarke.

A vote ensued, and Fianna Fail and Fine Gael en-block supported Cllr. Hill, as did Labour’s Cllr. Mick Dollard, while Cllr. Hogan was just supported by his Sinn Fein colleagues. The Athlone Independent members abstained in the vote, as did Labour’s Cllr. Johnny Penrose.

Hill was successfully elected Cathaoirleach, and he took his place at the top table.

In congratulating the new Cathoairlach, Cllr. Hogan said that some people in the chamber weren’t born, including himself, when Cllr. Hill was first elected in 1974.

“You are joining a sinking ship, that is Fine Gael, and we’ll cross swords, and that chair should have been divided across members, but I wish you well in your role,” said Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, to the new Cathaoirleach.

Athlone did get the Leas-Cathaoirleach role, when Cllr. Frankie Keena was chosen by his Fianna Fail colleagues and by Fine Gael members, and by Labour’s Cllr. Dollard. He was proposed by Cllr. Daly, and seconded by his Athlone colleague, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke. O’Rourke (son of Mary) got 8,910 first preference votes at the by-election.

Sinn Fein’s Cllr. Hogan proposed his colleague Cllr. Clarke for the role, and Cllr. O’Neill-Darcy seconded.   The ensuing vote had fourteen votes for Keena, and Cllr. Clarke got five votes, which included support from the two Independents.   Cllr. Penrose abstained on that vote.

“It’s my third term in the county council, and I’m honoured to be chosen as Leas Cathaoirleach, and we’ll have a tough five years ahead of us,” said Cllr. Keena.

The various council committees were divvied out to the members, with most of the roles going to Fianna Fail and Fine Gael members, who by then were the leading alliance on the council

As the inaugural meeting of Westmeath County Council came to an end, Cllr. O’Brien accused the two main parties of a “power grab,”, and said that he witnessed a great display of greed and unfairness.

Longford/Westmeath By-Election Overview

It was only ever going to be Gabrielle McFadden’s election, but there was a possible chance of Fianna Fail’s Aengus O’Rourke picking up enough transfers to make it to the Dail. However that didn’t happen, and McFadden took her late sister, Nicky’s seat in the Longford/Westmeath by-election on May 23rd.

Nicky McFadden was an extremely popular Fine Gael politician since the late 1990s. She worked her way up the ranks, town council, county council, Seanad Eireann to Dail Eireann in the 2011 General Election. However shortly after that success, Nicky was diagnosed with Motor Neuron disease, and died on March 25th, this year, at the young age of 51 years.

The Local Elections was just around the corner, set for May 23rd, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny took the initiative of moving the writ of the by election to fill the late Longford/Westmeath TD’s seat, on the same day as the Locals.

A number of Independents declared immediately and a battle royale took place in Fianna Fail between their Westmeath and Longford branches. Basically, Longford wanted to have their own chance of getting a TD. Even after FF headquarters in Dublin agreed to have an Athone based candidate, the Longford delegates continued trying to have a FF candidate added from their area. Eventually Aengus O’Rourke was chosen, son of Mary, and Athlone Town Councillor since 2009.

The only considered candidate for Fine Gael was Nicky’s sister, Gabrielle, a town and county councillor since 2009.

Sinn Fein’s Paul Hogan has been on Athlone Town Council since 2004, and fought two General Elections, strongly increasing his vote each time.

Labour wasn’t sure of their footing, and toyed with the idea of not contesting. However when they saw the field increasing with Independent and Sinn Fein candidates, they decided to put up the high profile Cllr. Denis Leonard. Realistically Labour knew that they could not get Deputy Willie Penrose’s high vote of around 11,000 plus. However they also did not see the low vote that was on the cards for them.

Longford had their own Independent candidate, James Morgan, as did Mullingar in Brian Fagan. Athlone had two Independents, John McNamara and Donal Jackson, both of whom declared early.

In the final days before the deadline for candidates, Athlone’s Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran declared. Boxer is no mean politician, and was first elected to Westmeath County Council in 1999. In 2006, he famously challenged, (albeit unsuccessfully), Mary O’Rourke for the FF nomination for a General Election. He left FF before the 2011 General Election, and ran as an Independent, gaining 3707 votes.

When the result was called, McFadden topped the poll with 12365 votes. Interestingly, O’Rourke, Hogan and Boxer all came in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th at first count, and remained that way throughout each subsequent count, until they were each eliminated, and McFadden became the victor.

It’s difficult to assess and compare the Longford/Westmeath by-election with the previous and indeed the future General Election, because the Fianna Fail vote was in disarray. It was against probability that the FF vote would decrease from around 11,000 plus to almost 9,000 in three years. However there was a 55.69% turnout at the by-election as opposed to a 66.95% at the General Election.

The Sinn Fein vote percentage doubled from 7.54% to 15.4% in the three years, which about mirrored the party vote throughout the country on the day.

The Labour vote bombed at 3,290, and Denis Leonard even lost his council seat in the Local Elections.

The Boxer vote almost had a vote percentage double, but not quite. He went from 6.44% to 11.49%.

However it was only going to be Gabrielle McFadden’s day. But the future is not so certain in Longford/Westmeath for Fine Gael. At the moment they have 2 TDs, McFadden and James Bannon in Longford. FF has Robert Troy in Mullingar and Labour has Willie Penrose, also in Mullingar.

Troy will hold and could top the poll at the next General Election. Penrose will be one of the few Labour TDs in the country to hold, due to his history and good organisation on the ground in North Westmeath. Fine Gael will more than likely hold Bannon. So who else will make it? Well it will depend on how much the Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and Independent vote continues to rise. Gabrielle McFadden is ahead of the posse in South Westmeath but the other contenders to the throne are already trying to catch up.

A nostalgic look at the 2004 Local Elections in Old Athlone

Athlone man, Morgan Fagg was a Labour candidate when he was just 22 years old, at the time of the 2004 Local Elections.  In response to a recent irishmokefill story about that election, 10 years ago, Morgan has written of his own experiences of that period in his life.  irishsmokefill is pleased that Morgan has agreed to Guest Blog here today, with his story.

Morgan Fagg
Morgan Fagg

By Morgan Fagg

Gather around children, this is the tale of the 2004 local elections and the time I ran as a young man of 22 for Athlone Town Council. How the times have changed since I was a boy.

If a week is a long time in politics then what changes have we seen in the last 500 weeks?

Back in my day, you could have ran for the Green Party or the Progressive Democrats but your best chance of success was to run for Fianna Fail who nearly had an overall majority in the Dail and for a long time a complete majority in the Urban District Council and later Athlone Town Council.

Back in 2004, the council had moved into a new premises, which we used to call the new town hall after using the Fire Station for temporary meetings while the mighty new multi million pound building was built.

I still remember marching as a fresher on the old UDC building in 1999 as A.I.T. students demanded a pedestrian crossing on the Dublin Road. Within a few years I was running as a candidate from my student leader soapbox in A.I.T.´s Student Union.

In 2004, I had just graduated with a degree in Business Studies and Ireland was awash with money and we clearly weren´t used to it as we had only changed from old money called Punts a few years earlier.

Athlone had closed its library, ´The Father Mathew Hall´and moved to the state of the art Civic Office which is now apparently closing after about 100 monthly meetings of Athlone Town Council.

I used to attend the monthly meetings, and I’ve sat and listened from the public gallery, usually alone, sometimes with independent candidate Jim Behan and various others.

I’ve sat in the press box needlessly as the now defunct Athlone Voice went to print on a Monday evening, voiceless as my stories became old news by the end of week. Back then you got your local news from a friend on the phone or a local paper and not from a local paper on your smart phone.

It was a different time back then, Mark Zuckerberg had his face in a book and writing on someone´s wall was called graffiti and poking a friend was an irritation.

When all my Apple products were bought in Behan´s Fruit N´Veg and the only people with an I-pad, had a lazy eye.

Before selfies and Lady Gaga´s ´Paparazzi´, we were still shaking it like a Polaroid picture to OutKast´s ´Hey Yeah´

Nobody in Mullingar had ever heard of a band called One Direction and an unheard of an Irish-African-American called Barrack Obama was about to break onto the world stage.

10 years ago, an unknown Obama became famous for his speech supporting Senator John Kerry´s presidential campaign against incumbent George Bush.  A decade later and John Kerry is now Obama´s secretary.

George Bush was visiting Ireland in the run up to the election so we deployed everything to protect him from the Irish. Pretty sure they had more security here than when he went to Iraq.

I marched down Dublin´s streets with the rest of the country on the 15th of February which was the biggest Irish protest against war mongering since Willy Patrick Hitler internationally condemned his Austrian uncle.

In cinemas, we were watching the first Spiderman sequel, Spiderman 2, laughing at Anchorman, the legend of Ron Burgundy and we saw the first Saw film. Before prohibition we were smoking in pubs, clubs and restaurants and long before Love Hate, we watched in despair as an Irish horse was caught snorting coke at the Olympics, well that´s how I remember it all kids.

Nationally there was a man called Michael D who couldn’t get the Labour nomination to run in the 2004 Presidential Election and locally 22 candidates went knocking on your door looking for your vote. Enough interruptions at dinner time to make you want to tear up their manifestos in front of a litter warden.

Cllr. Nicky McFadden, later a Senator and Dail Deputy topped the poll with enough votes to almost win her a second seat and I bowed out in the second round, with a mere 46 votes.

Might seem strange to reflect on an old Town Council election but with the Council closing, we can no longer look forward to another one and looking back is sadly all we can do.

South Westmeath Election Forum this coming Wednesday

With the local elections fast approaching, the Westmeath Independent is hosting a public debate involving Athlone area candidates who are seeking election to Westmeath County Council on May 23.

With Athlone Town Council being abolished, this local election carries added significance in the town and its surrounding areas.

The public forum is taking place in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Athlone, on Wednesday next (May 14) at 7pm. All candidates for the Athlone Municipal District of Westmeath County Council have been invited to participate.

It is hoped the event will result in a lively and engaging debate on the issues that matter to people in Athlone and other parts of South Westmeath.

The format for the evening will allow each candidate to briefly outline their election priorities at the outset. This will be followed by a question and answer session.

There will also be opportunities for spontaneous questions from the floor.

Members of the public are being invited to attend the event and submit questions in advance, via the Westmeath Independent and website. Details can be found at:


Unpredictable – But It’s All To Play For – Nobody Has Voted Yet!

There is little idea at the moment of what’s going to happen at these elections. Nobody trusts anyone. They don’t trust the politicians or the parties, or the Independents. Usually the polls are bang on by about 3% one way or the other. However they all got it wrong last October for the Seanad Referendum. There was barely a poll out of scores which suggested that Seanad Eireann would remain in situ. Yet that is what happened after Ireland had its say when a majority of more than 42,000 people extra voted for the Seanad to remain open.

At the moment, we have three elections coming in a fortnight’s time. The Council’s. The European. The by elections for Longford/Westmeath and Dublin West.

Three papers will go to people in some regions, but two papers will go to people in most parts of the country.

Nobody knows what’s going to happen, or what the general population is thinking.

Fine Gael have their entrenched voters for the most part, as has Sinn Fein despite the arrest by the PSNI of their President Gerry Adams. Fianna Fail voters have still not, almost four years later, returned home to the fold. Forget about Labour, they are mostly gone and mostly forgotten. Only the really impressive hard-working Labour candidates have a hope, but most of their members will be lost. Independents are there, and they are an alternative of sorts. However nobody knows what sort of alliances will be formed after the election, i.e. will Independents bring forward a new political party? Or will most of them stay on their own, and be limited in what they can achieve? But signs are good for most with an Independent tag.

It’s all to play for! The latest Red C poll, which is generally the one which the political people pay heed of goes something like this: Ind 25%, FG 25%, FF 21%, SF 18%, and Lab 11%.

The countdown begins, and the elections are on Friday, May23rd. In previous times you would have a fair idea what was happening. But austerity, broken promises, and a more questioning and assertive electorate has left them all having to work their fingers to the bone for votes.

All candidates are saying that they are getting on well on the doors, but we know for a fact that Labour are getting ate alive. One Labour candidate was followed and verbally abused in Dublin, and another had their literature torn up in front of them in the midlands. So it’s safe to say that it’s not looking well there. However this is the one which changes everything, maybe, or maybe it’ll be all back to the two and a half party system, in which Sinn Fein will be the half. But nobody has voted yet, so it’s still all to play for.

Midlands and Dublin By-Elections To Be Held on May 23rd

The late Deputy Nicky McFadden.
The late Deputy Nicky McFadden.

Speculation has been around for days now, but irishsmokefill can reveal that two by-elections caused by the death of Nicky McFadden and the sudden resignation of Patrick Nulty, will be enacted on May 23rd, the same day as the Local and European elections.

A by-election has to be legally held within six months of the seat vacating, and that would have brought the Government up to late September, but they are supposedly anxious to ‘get these out of the way’ because they are confident of wins in at least one, with a chance in the other.

Deputy Nicky McFadden died at the age of 51 years of Motor Neuron Disease on March 25th, and Patrick Nulty resigned around the same time.

Anita Lenihan
Anita Lenihan

The contenders are already lining up, and immediate conventions will have to be held for party candidates to be chosen. Rumours on twitter claim that on Monday night next Fianna Fail will hold their Dublin West convention. Three candidates, David McGuinness, Edward McManus and Anita Lenihan (Brian’s sister) are due to try for the position. McGuinness got a credible vote in a previous by-election in Dublin West in 2011, following the death of Brian Lenihan. However a member of the Lenihan dynasty could do better in that area, and possibly win the seat. Her main competition is Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist Party, who would appear to be in the lead. It seems like former athlete champion; Eamon Coughlan will be the Fine Gael candidate.

In happier Fine Gael times, Lucinda Creighton, with Gabrielle McFadden
In happier Fine Gael times, Lucinda Creighton, with Gabrielle McFadden

In the Longford-Westmeath, the frontrunner is Athlone Mayor Gabrielle McFadden of Fine Gael. She is Nicky’s younger sister, and their father, Brendan, who only died last November, was a Westmeath county councillor for twenty four years. However it seems like Peter Burke from Mullingar, who got over 6,600 votes in the 2011 General Election could also be in the ring for the position. However wisdom would give Gabrielle McFadden the upper hand in that Fine Gael race.

Aengus O'Rourke
Aengus O’Rourke

Fianna Fail is a more complicated party to be in for those seeking election. Athlone councillor, Aengus O’Rourke, son of former Minister Mary O’Rourke has declared his intention of going to convention. However three Longford candidates are supposed to be also in the frame with two having declared, Padraig Loughrey and Pat O’Rourke. Philip Reynolds, son of former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds has also been mentioned, but to date hasn’t commented.

Sinn Fein’s high votecatcher in the midlands, Paul Hogan, who was also a former Mayor of Athlone is also expected to run. Labour too may run a member of the Penrose family to test the voting waters there; following Deputy Willie Penrose’s resigning his Ministry over Mullingar Barracks, and then returning to the party fold some time later. Also nobody knows the intentions of Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, a former Fianna Fail member, who is now Independent. Boxer too is a high vote catcher, and ran in the last General Election.

irishsmokefill’s prediction is that Gabrielle McFadden will comfortably win Nicky’s seat, unless an Athlone Fianna Fail candidate has a clear run beside her, ie if neither Boxer or Paul Hogan runs. In that scenario Gabrielle McFadden would be fighting Aengus O’Rourke for the Athlone and beyond vote, and Fianna Fail would then have a chance.

Paul Hogan
Paul Hogan

Sinn Fein too would have a chance, after all Paul Hogan got 4,339 first preference votes last time, and was close to a major breakthrough for that party in Longford Westmeath, only for his lack of transfers.

Nicky McFadden was extremely popular in South Westmeath, and well liked across party lines. If Fianna Fail pick a Longford candidate, it is likely they wouldn’t get support from Athlone, which could push Sinn Fein’s Hogan, with the help of Independent transfers to challenging Gabrielle McFadden.

John McNamara
John McNamara

Ironically, the only candidate who has declared for Longford-Westmeath is John McNamara, who is a former Sinn Fein member, and is now running as Independent.

However at the moment irishsmokefill’s prediction is Longford Westmeath – Gabrielle McFadden (FG) and for Dublin West – Ruth Coppinger (Socialist).


The Late Popular Nicky McFadden TD

Nicky McFadden with Jimmy Reilly on a visit to Loughloe House nursing home, Athlone in August 2010.
Nicky McFadden with Jimmy Reilly on a visit to Loughloe House nursing home, Athlone in August 2010.

She was the highest votecatcher in the history of Athlone Town Council/UDC. Now that record won’t be beaten because the Town Council will be abolished in May, and that record vote of 974 from the local elections ten years ago, will remain hers.

Nicky passed away on the afternoon of March 25th, at the age of 51 years, after battling the horrific illness, motor neuron disease. It is often said that some politicians are popular, and with Fine Gael’s Nicky McFadden, that couldn’t be overstated. She had the common touch with people, and was genuinely passionate about her hometown of Athlone.

Nicky’s late father, Brendan was a Westmeath County Councillor and Athlone Urban District Councillor for almost 25 years, so she saw local political life from a young age. However her first attempt at gaining a place in Athlone politics failed in 1994, when she ran for the UDC. However her 200 odd votes did help re-elect her father, and her political colleague Cllr. Mark Cooney. Brendan retired off the UDC in 1999, so it undoubtedly helped Nicky achieve 558 first preference votes, which put her ahead of better known local politicians, to top the poll.

Fine Gael chose Nicky to contest the General Election for Westmeath in 2002. It was a dramatic election due to the loss of Fianna Fail’s then Minister Mary O’Rourke’s seat.

While not coming close to taking a seat, Nicky got more than five hundred votes higher than the previous two South Westmeath Fine Gael contenders, one of which was her father Brendan.

Nicky’s 2004 Local Election poll-topping results in the town (974 first preference votes) and county (1,901 first preference votes) elections proved that she was no fluke in local politics.

Working in the health care sector as a receptionist in a doctors’ surgery helped Nicky built up a great base of popularity, which no doubt helped with her poll topping in council elections.

Nicky, who was a mother of two grown up children, Caren and Eoin often had people calling into the pet shop, ‘Paws’, that she ran with her aunt, Kathleen McFadden to talk business.

It was long believed that the Fine Gael candidate for South Westmeath would not, despite the double poll-topping, be Nicky, but her colleague, Cllr. Mark Cooney. It was thought that the Cooney name (he is son of former Minister Cooney) would be strong enough to pull in Fine Gael votes in Longford and North Westmeath. However Cllr. Cooney stepped aside in favour of Nicky.

She was a member of Westmeath VEC for about eight years, until after the 2007 General Election, which saw Mary O’Rourke return to Dail Eireann with a seat for Athlone. Nicky didn’t win that election but contested the following Seanad Eireann election and topped the poll in the Administrative panel, and became a Senator.

Her sister, Gabrielle McFadden won a seat in the town and county councils in 2009, and became the town’s Mayor in 2013. Nicky had previously been the town’s Deputy Mayor in 2002.

Nicky was a popular Senator in Athlone for almost four years, when she was chosen to contest the General Election 2011. She got 6,129 votes and got massive transfers from the other Athlone candidates, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, Paul Hogan and Mary O’Rourke, to become the new Athlone TD.

She was just over a year into her job as TD, when motor neuron disease struck. She is survived by her daughter Caren, son Eoin, sisters Gab and Aine, aunt Kay (Baba), brother in law Brian, good friend Jenny, niece Katie, nephew Luke, Caren’s partner Shane, beloved grand daughter Matilda, cousin Velma, relatives and an extraordinary circle of friends and colleagues.

Nicky McFadden died as a Fine Gael TD in her hometown of Athlone.

Ar Dheis De Go Raibh Anam Dhilis


A Decade Ago, A Different Political Game – Athlone Local Elections 2004

It was a local election like no other remembered.  In 2004 Fianna Fail were at an all time low in the polls, Sinn Fein was reaping the benefits, and Fine Gael and Labour were just holding their own.  But with the Athlone Town Council’s elections, nobody knew what would happen, or if any of the eight outgoing councillors would lose their seats.  The result, ten years ago, was a surprise that would have made most local political watchers lose money in the bookies.

Independent Cllr. Breffni Rowan left Athlone Town Council that summer, after a nineteen year stint.  He had done much for soccer in Athlone, which helped him get elected in 1985.  Breff supported Fianna Fail in many mayoral elections, and  lived on the west side of town, and he also came from a Labour party background, with his grandfather being a Labour councillor.  So therefore it was too hard to judge where his votes would go, but the money was on his votes electing a Labour councillor, which would be the council’s first since John Henson left in 1999.

The other eight councillors; Fianna Fail’s, Cllr. Kieran Molloy, Cllr. John Butler, Cllr. Frankie Keena, Cllr. Egbert Moran and Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, Fine Gael’s Cllr. Nicky McFadden and Cllr. Mark Cooney, and Independent member, Cllr. Austin Berry were all seeking re-election.  However there was also thirteen other candidates made up of  Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Fein, Green party and many Independents.  In reality they were all hoping to win Breffni’s seat or to take out one of the five Fianna Fail councillors.

The introduction of Electronic Voting to the election had all candidates on edge, even the Fianna Fail ones despite their public support for the new system.  However six weeks before the June 11th election, the then Minister for the Environment, Martin Cullen pulled the plug, (pardon the pun) on electronic voting, due to questions raised by the Electronic Voting Commission on the system’s software.

So from early April the canvassing began in earnest.  Posters decorated the streets of the town, and candidates and their election literature began to appear in doorways.

Frankie Keena
Frankie Keena
Nicky McFadden TD
Nicky McFadden TD

It was beginning to seem more and more likely that one of the Fianna Fail councillors would lose his seat, but most pundits rated Cllr. Kieran Molloy and Cllr. Frankie Keena as being solid safe.  It was also believed that the Cooney name mightn’t be strong enough to hold Cllr. Mark Cooney, because his vote had dropped by 146 first preferences from the 1994 to 1999 local elections. Independent Cllr. Austin Berry, despite his popularity, was always deemed as a there or thereabouts possibility to either win or lose the election.  Nobody doubted that Cllr. Nicky McFadden would top the poll, considering her 1999 poll-topping, and her 2002 General Election vote.

However there were also many high-profile big names in the race for a seat on Athlone Town Council.

Sheila Buckley-Byrne
Sheila Buckley-Byrne
Mary O'Rourke
Mary O’Rourke

Fianna Fail’s Sheila Buckley-Byrne had been just 13 votes from eclipsing Boxer at the end of the 1999 count.  Her early canvassing and having the support of the then Senator Mary O’Rourke brought many to think she would go all the way this time.

Fine Gael brought unsuccessful 1985 candidate, Kevin O’Brien on board, and in the intervening years he had built up a successful business in town.

Patsy Beaumont, who had been an Athlone Town Councillor from 1985 until he retired in 1999, made a canvass comeback, and seemed set to take the westside votes left vacant by the departure of Breffni Rowan.

The Labour party ran four candidates – union rep Denis Rohan, who had unsuccessfully stood for Co. Westmeath in 1999, Jim Henson who stood as an Independent for the town council in 1999, and was the cousin of the previous Labour councillor, John Henson.   Westside businessman, Ray Lennon, whose late father Jimmy, was a Fine Gael councillor.  They also put up Morgan Fagg, who was Vice President of AIT Students Union.

Austin Berry and Paul Hogan
Austin Berry and Paul Hogan

Sinn Fein was originally seen as a non runner, because of Athlone being a garrison town, and with the 1999 candidate getting just 92 first preferences.  However this time round, they had Maynooth student, Paul Hogan, who came from two prominent Athlone and Garrycastle families, and with the national popularity that the party had gained – it wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility that the party would take its first council seat.

The Athlone Health situation with the introduction of the Hanly report had got much press coverage, and its main high profile candidate Betty Kelly put herself up before the electorate in June 2004.  Betty Kelly was a member of a highly respected St. Patrick’s Tce., Athlone family, and she had been a member of Fine Gael for three months in 1999 when she ran unsuccessfully for the election that year.  She left the party afterwards saying she was unhappy that the party hadn’t fought the Athlone Health issue, and she became an Independent candidate.

There were other candidates as well, and the final number stood at 21, all looking to be placed anywhere in the nine spots on the list, after the election was over.

Three nights before the election, the council met for its last time, and a presentation was given to Breffni Rowan for his nineteen years of service.  On the night Breff said that he hoped that all eight remaining councillors would be returned, and that there would be just one new councillor in his place.  But this would not be the case.

When the day of reckoning, June 12th, arrived – the candidates and their supporters headed for the beginning of the long count at the Athlone Institute of Technology.

The first tallies showed a blueprint of how things would pan out for the new council.

It seemed like Sinn Fein’s Paul Hogan would take a seat, probably at the expense of Fianna Fail’s Frankie Keena.

The first count revealed that fact in true numbers.  Hogan got a high first preference, and the Keena vote collapsed from his 1999 success.  Nicky got almost a quota and a half, and Boxer shaded a quota.  John Butler surprised the pundits, by raising his personal first preference by approximately 160 votes.  Egbert Moran and Sheila Byrne were close in votes, with the possibility of only one of them getting a seat.  Austin Berry’s first preference vote also rose, but it did seem likely that he could lose to another candidate.

Mark Cooney dropped about 50 votes, but it was probable that Nicky’s high vote would elect him, and possibly Kevin O’Brien.

The Labour party didn’t do a strong showing, with only Ray Lennon, a far way ahead of their other three candidates.

As the hours went by the big names kept falling. But Nicky and Boxer were elected first, and many of the low vote candidates were eliminated.

The biggest surprise of the night was more the elimination of Frankie Keena, rather than the election of Paul Hogan.  Austin Berry benefited from many transfers, following the elimination of all the other Independents.  Mark Cooney did gain many of Nicky’s surplus, as did Kevin O’Brien.

With Frankie gone, there was less likelihood of Fianna Fail holding five seats, so the final fight in that party was between Egbert and Sheila, with Egbert holding the lead through most of the counts.

One by one, Rohan, Fagg and Henson of the Labour candidates fell with Ray Lennon proving to be the victor.  Fine Gael lost the possibility of getting a third councillor when Kevin O’Brien fell, but he did save Mark Cooney, and propelled him into being fourth councillor elected.

The main vote catching Independents, Kelly, Beaumont and Behan were each eliminated, but boosted Austin into being the only non-party candidate elected.

At the last minute just like in 1999, Fianna Fail’s Sheila Byrne was eliminated – this time she was a mere 19 votes from a council seat.

The final result came at around 3 am, although it was put under question, by the revelation of discrepancies at the early part of the count.  An entire recount took place on Monday, June 14th, but it didn’t make any difference in the personnel elected.

As elected they were: Cllr. Nicky McFadden (FG), Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran (FF), Cllr. Kieran Molloy (FF), Cllr. Mark Cooney (FG), Cllr. John Butler (FF), Cllr. Egbert Moran (FF), Cllr. Paul Hogan (SF), Cllr. Austin Berry (Ind) and Cllr. Ray Lennon (Lab).

As the years went by, there was many political changes in Athlone.  Nicky McFadden was elected to the Dail in 2011.  Boxer left Fianna Fail in 2011, and became a high profile Independent.  Sheila Buckley Byrne left Fianna Fail in 2009, and was elected as an Independent that year.  Kieran Molloy will retire from politics in 2011.  John Butler, Egbert Moran and Ray Lennon lost their council seats in 2009.  Austin Berry stepped down from the council before the 2009 Local Election.  Also in 2009, Jim Henson was elected for Labour.  The town council will be abolished later this year, and Boxer, Cooney, Henson and Hogan will be attempting to win seats on the new and much smaller, Westmeath County Council.

This is one of the very best of the info websites for getting up to date news on the upcoming Local and European Elections.  Its administrator, Adrian Kavanagh appears regularly on radio and tv programmes and is a member of staff at the geography dept. of NUIM.

Adrian Kavanagh, who I don’t know personally, or have any connection to him or his website, has each of the political parties, and Independent members listed on his website, as each of their conventions occur.  His information can be accessed through his website or through his twitter account @AdrianKavanagh

The website is priceless for election watchers, or anyone involved in politics in Ireland.

David Flynn –