There is going to be a large number of new faces in Cork’s County Hall after the local election counts are completed and their appearance may well alter the balance of power within the local authority.
There are currently 55 seats on the county council and although Fine Gael is the largest party, and has been for a number of years, they didn’t hold the balance of power.
Fine Gael had 18 seats and Fianna Fáil two less. Up to the last local elections Fine Gael held sway with a higher number of seats and the support of just one Independent, who had previously been a member of that party.
After the elections in 2014 Fianna Fáil managed to broker a deal with the Independents, who number 11 in the outgoing council.
This deal involved rotating the position of mayor of County Cork between them on an annual basis and giving the Independents seats on important internal and external committees.
Outgoing Fine Gael councillors Derry Canty and Deirdre Forde are switching to run for the city council, due to the expansion of the city boundary.
Meanwhile, three of their county councillors — James O’Donovan, John A Collins, and Mary Hegarty — have decided to hang up their political boots.
Of the 16 Fianna Fáil representatives on the council, one, Mary Rose Desmond, is standing in the city. Two — Bob Ryan and Michael Ahern — are not seeking re-election.
Three Independents are also switching their attention to the city council — Diarmiad Ó Cahdla, Ger Keohane, and Kevin Conway.
Two of their colleagues, Timmy Collins and Kieran McCarthy, have decided to retire.
There are seven outgoing Sinn Féin councillors and only five of them can be returned to County Hall because Eoghan Jeffers is contesting in the city and Rachel McCarthy is not seeking re-election.
The Social Democrats had two seats. Outgoing councillor Joe Harris is also contesting a seat in City Hall, while Mitchelstown-based June Murphy is standing again for the county council.
Labour has just one councillor, Cobh-based Cathal Rasmussen, who is seeking re-election in the county.
His party had seven councillors in the previous council, but suffered a meltdown during the last local elections.
Only two were returned, One of them, Noel McCarthy, subsequently joined Fine Gael.
Fine Gael also managed to persuade former Independent John Paul O’Shea to join their ranks.
At the same time, Sinn Féin was making inroads. The party had just one sitting councillor in the previous council, but last time out returned nine.
In the interim, two left: Kieran McCarthy joining the ranks of the Independents and Ms Murphy throwing her lot in with the Social Democrats.
So even before the starting gun is fired, there will be a minimum of 17 new faces in the newly elected council, as nine sitting county councillors are running in the city elections and eight are not seeking re-election.
The two big parties will be watching the results unfold very closely. As soon as all the counts are in they will be doing their maths and then embark on courting the most eligible partner(s) for backing.
It is likely to emerge quite quickly who is talking to who, but the horsetrading will have to be concluded pretty quickly.
That’s because the annual general meeting of the council is scheduled to take place on Friday, June 7.
Fianna Fáil will fancy their chances of retaining the balance of power. The party will be hoping for a backlash against the Government to increase its seats.
Yet, unless Fine Gael completely falls apart, they will still have to rely on the Independents for backing.
And some pundits believe that the Independents won’t return as many numbers on June 7 as they did previously.
Fine Gael will be anxious to get back the balance of power it enjoyed for many years up until recently.
There will be an urgency amongst its negotiators to bring possible targets onboard before the June 7 deadline.
That’s when the decision will be made on who will be elected to follow in the footsteps of the outgoing Mayor of County Cork, Patrick Gerard Murphy.
He will no doubt be hoping that the ‘curse’ of being the mayor does not strike for a third time in a row.
In previous elections, there were major shocks when outgoing mayors Noel O’Connor (Malllow) and Barbara Murray (Youghal) failed to get re-elected.
It would not be surprising if 10 or more sitting councillors failed to make it back to County Hall.
That would mean there will be more new faces in the chamber come June 7 than old ones.