It’s not so long ago since Independent councillors were out in the cold in the chamber of Cork County Council.
But the winds of change, brought about by voter apathy towards the main parties and in-fighting in political circles, has led to Independents emerging as the likely new power-brokers in County Hall.
Regular defections, and there’s more to come, will help Independents become the largest single grouping on the council in the 55-seat council.
For many years, long-serving Midleton-based Cllr Noel Collins ploughed a lone furrow as a non-party councillor. But, after the last local elections in particular, he found himself surrounded on the benches with Independents.
Between them, non-party members secured 10 seats but, since 2014, they have been joined by three more colleagues. Two defected from Sinn Féin and a third from Fianna Fáil. It now looks highly likely that another defection is in the offing this week which would bring their number up to 14 in the chamber.
Fine Gael had been the dominant party on the council for a generation or more.
They had 23 seats going into the last election but got a real hammering from the electorate leaving them with just 16.
Fianna Fáil went from 12 to 17 but then lost one to the Independents when former county mayor Cllr Alan Coleman decided to jump ship. As a general election candidate, he’s now a threat to the party’s chances of recapturing a Dáil seat
Sinn Féin previously had just one seat in the council but picked up 10 seats last year, despite their outgoing councillor, Michelle Hennessy, not being re-elected. But, since then, things have gone sour for the party. Infighting led to the expulsion of Cllr Kieran McCarthy (Cobh) and the suspension of Cllr Mellisa Mullane (Mallow).
Both were later told they were being reinstated. But McCarthy was so angry he decided not to accept the offer and is now an Independent Dáil candidate who could cause significant damage to Cork East’s sitting Sinn Féin TD Sandra McLellan hopes of re-election.
Meanwhile, Cllr Mullane accepted the party’s olive branch and is now back in the fold. But just when it looked to be quietening down, another bombshell occurred. Cllr June Murphy (Mitchelstown), in recent weeks, resigned to join the ranks of the Independents.
Labour, meanwhile, was reduced from seven to two seats in the last council. They readily admit to being “an endangered species” amid a very strong, and continuing, rumour a defection to the Independents’ bench is imminent.
The Independents, effectively, are becoming the power-brokers. Fianna Fáil saw the writing on the wall and made a pact, last year, with the Independents. As a result, Cllr John Paul O’Shea (Ind) became Mayor of Cork County.
Meanwhile, rumours abound about further defections from the big two parties but Cllr Kevin Murphy (FG) and Cllr Seamus McGrath (FF) — the respective council leaders — were firmly confident that would not happen.
The Independents do not have a council leader but ‘spokesman’ Cllr Declan Hurley said: “The main stream parties have had their day. The Independents are there to genuinely represent the public and not the party, and that’s the difference.”
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