ELECTION EYE by EMMETT CORCORAN
PART ONE: Boyle Municipal District
In the summer of 2024, the people of Roscommon will take to the polls for local and European elections. This week I have decided to take a deep dive into who are potential runners and riders in the Boyle Municipal District.
The Boyle Municipal District is, naturally, constituted of the town of Boyle, but also takes in Ballaghaderreen, Strokestown, and virtually all electoral divisions along and north of the N5 corridor which crosses the county from Tarmonbarry to Tulsk, onto Frenchpark and exits the county into Mayo, at Ballaghaderreen.
County Roscommon is divided into three areas – the Boyle Municipal District in the north; the Roscommon Municipal District in the centre (constituted of Castlerea, Roscommon Town, and Ballyleague along with their hinterlands); and the Athlone Municipal District in the south of the county, with its main population centre being in Monksland, near Athlone.
The local authority divided the eighteen seats evenly across the three MDs. This means each MD can elect six county councillors.
The Boyle MD currently is home to six councillors across the political spectrum. They are Valerie Byrne (Independent, Elphin); Liam Callaghan (Fine Gael, Castlerea); Tom Crosby (Independent, Tarmonbarry); John Cummins (Fianna Fáil, Boyle), Michael Mulligan (Sinn Féin, Ballaghaderreen) and Joe Murphy (Fianna Fáil, Strokestown).
As we go to print, the state of play appears to be that Councillors Joe Murphy (FF) and John Cummins (FF) will not be contesting the next local elections. Cllr Murphy, whose day job is as a postman, is standing down to focus on his family life, following his wife Nicola’s diagnosis with Motor Neurone Disease.
Given that these high profile Fianna Fáil torchbearers are standing down, there will undoubtedly be a scramble by some ‘Young Turks’ and also by members of the ‘Old Guard’ to fill the political void within Fianna Fáil and retain the two seats for the party.
All indications point to the remaining four sitting councillors in the Boyle MD seeking re-election. Valerie Byrne gathered a massive vote not just in her home town of Elphin last time out, but also in Boyle and Strokestown. The question is not whether Cllr Byrne will be elected if she runs again, but if she will top the poll or come a close second, as she did in 2019, with north of 1,500 first preferences.
Cllr Crosby lost his seat due to the constituency boundary changes in 2014 but he regained it with a healthy margin in 2019. The senior member of Roscommon County Council, Cllr Crosby will be hard shifted as he works doggedly for his constituents and consistently delivers for voters in his catchment area. However, Cllr Crosby is likely to face stern opposition in his backyard.
In all likelihood, Andrew Reynolds of Rooskey will seek the nomination to run for Fine Gael alongside sitting councillor, Liam Callaghan. If he seeks the nomination, Mr Reynolds will likely get the nod to run.
In 2019, Mr Reynolds acted as a great vote-sweeper for Cllr Callaghan with his transfers being essential in re-electing the sitting councillor.
As a candidate on his doorstep, Reynolds is likely to put some pressure on Cllr Crosby, but if past performance is to be an indication of future performance, Crosby will probably stay ahead of Reynolds in early outings.
A possible further challenge to Cllr Crosby comes from Strokestown where two new names are being touted as contenders (Cllr Crosby has historically taken a significant vote in the Strokestown area).
The two ‘Young Turks’ being talked about in Strokestown are community activists Rory Williams-Doyle and Jonathan Cassidy.
Mr Doyle has been an active community member in recent years. A software developer by trade and a trainee barrister, he volunteers with several community groups in the Strokestown area and is an active member of Sinn Féin.
Last Friday evening, the 27th of October, Mr Doyle secured the Sinn Féin nomination to contest the local elections alongside established councillor Michael Mulligan of Ballaghaderreen. Articulate and bright, Mr Doyle will put pressure on others in this area.
The other potential candidate from the Strokestown area is Jonathon Cassidy. From a well-known family, Mr Cassidy is a nurse in Mullingar Regional Hospital. In recent years, he has been extremely proactive with local community groups such as Strokestown Tidy Towns and Strokestown Town Team.
Mr Cassidy’s political affiliations are not publicly declared but his track record as a hard worker and well organised activist would likely make him a serious contender for a seat, regardless of his political persuasion.
The Fianna Fáil void
With sitting Boyle MD Fianna Fáil councillors John Cummins and Joe Murphy indicating they won’t be running in 2024, Fianna Fáil has a body of work ahead of them to fill the void.
Boyle will elect at least one councillor; it simply must, given its population, especially when you consider its large rural hinterland. There is the potential for the town to elect perhaps two councillors, which would be a shock to the status quo in the area. But who will the largest town in the MD elect?
Sources advise me that Sinn Féin are considering running a third candidate in the MD, with a potential nomination coming out of the Arigna area, in the north. Such a nomination would create a phenomenal candidate spread for the previously lethargic Sinn Féin organisation in the area.
Community activist Noel McTiernan was touted ahead of the 2019 local elections as a possible independent contender in the north of the MD, following his successful efforts to improve road safety at the Cootehall and Croghan junctions. With John Cummins bowing out, perhaps the stage is set for the effective community organiser to make a run.
Or will Keith Suffin of Fine Gael, a local from the Boyle area, who managed to pull a respectable 622 first preference votes in 2019, manage to take a seat this time out? Mr Suffin stayed in contention for a seat right up to the seventh and final count in 2019, at which stage he had amassed 1,076 votes. 200 additional first preferences, or a similar number of additional transfers, could see him take a seat.
Wind at their back
By all accounts, Sinn Féin’s Michael Mulligan appears to be an immovable object in Ballaghaderreen. A long-standing member of the Council, Cllr Mulligan has historically been able to reach outside of the Sinn Féin tent and gather votes from people of all political persuasions in his community; a testament to his dedication, and his ability to put his community ahead of his party.
Cllr Mulligan’s protege, Claire Kerrane, shocked punters in 2020 when she narrowly defeated sitting Fianna Fáil TD, Eugene Murphy, winning the first Dáil seat for Sinn Féin in Roscommon in living memory.
With the wind at Sinn Féin’s back and Cllr Mulligan’s track record, he is unlikely to be moved at the next local election. But will the wind be strong enough to drive Strokestown’s Rory Williams-Doyle over the finish line, and if so, at the expense of whom?
How did it all go down in 2019?
Keith Suffin from Boyle was narrowly beaten by Cllr Joe Murphy in 2019, with the bulk of Andrew Reynolds’ transfer on the seventh count transferring locally to Joe Murphy rather than along party lines.
Independent candidate Sajjad Hussain, from Ballaghaderreen, garnered a healthy first preference vote of 527. If Mr Hussain was to contest the next election, he would be worth an each-way bet, especially in light of his having stayed in the fight until the fifth count in 2019.
A regular contender for Fianna Fáil over the years has been Aidan Sampey from Frenchpark. Regularly getting the nod from the party and finding himself on the ticket, he has historically struggled to gather enough first preferences to get into contention. With Joe Murphy bowing out of the race, perhaps Mr Sampey will be in contention for a seat if he can be supported by the powerful Murphy machine.
With so much political volatility in the air, Fine Gael may well fancy its chances in the upcoming local elections. If the party focuses on a two-candidate strategy, with the aim of electing two councillors, it might pull off a coup and take a seat from Fianna Fáil, especially given the leadership vacuum in the area. It’s hard to see Sinn Féin taking two seats in this MD, but it was also hard to imagine the party securing a Dáil seat in 2020 and yet it did precisely that.
It is far too early to make any prediction for the local election, particularly given how wide open the field is to new contenders. However, despite inevitable shifts, it is difficult to see any major upsets taking place; the majority of the ‘Old Guard’ seem secure for the time being.
If I were to place a bet at this juncture, the shifts in the political landscape are more likely to come from the retirement of sitting councillors than a significant upsurge in support for any new candidate.