The new 55-seater council has been increased by seven seats, due to the abolition of 12 town councils, but the government parties, Fine Gael and Labour, lost a total of 11 seats — six and five respectively.
The new chamber will boast 17 Fianna Fáil councillors, 16 Fine Gael, 10 Independents, 10 Sinn Féin, and just two Labour.
Although Sinn Féin’s sole outgoing councillor Michelle Hennessy lost her seat, the party secured 10 seats from a total of 12 candidates.
There are also four new Independent councillors, meaning there will be a total of 31 new faces when the council meets for the first time on Friday, June 6. There will be 13 women members.
Community activist Michael Collins’ poll-topping performance in West Cork may have spelled the end of the Sheehan political dynasty of more than half a century, with Dermot Sheehan (Fine Gael) exiting a seat previously held for almost four decades by his father, ex-TD PJ Sheehan.
Other big -name casualties in Cork county included long-serving Donal O’Rourke (FF) in West Cork and Barbara Murray (FG) in east Cork.
Outgoing county mayor Noel O’Connor blamed his defeat on being “the public face of Fine Gael with the chain around my neck”.
“I felt the brunt of the anger at the doorsteps over the Government’s property and water charges. People would say at the door ‘thank you, you’re a great fella, but we’re not voting for the Fine Gael brand’. I will be communicating this to the Taoiseach and ministers about refreshing the brand,” said the Mallow man.
Labour junior minister Seán Sherlock, who saw his Mallow party colleague Cllr Ronan Sheehan suffer from the backlash, said was “no doubt it was a tough day for the party”.
“I don’t think this is an anti-Government vote. It’s a realignment of Irish politics. Sinn Féin is here to stay and other parties will have to acknowledge that,” the TD said. One of the more remarkable stories was that of non-party councillor John Paul O’Shea, who achieved 4,374 first preferences in the Kanturk-Mallow electoral area and who may now set his sights on Dáil Éireann. It was a massive leap from his 1,859 first preferences in 2009 and he attributed it to a number of factors, including “people realising that the old party system isn’t working any more”.
Community activist Michael Collins, also an Independent, topped the poll in West Cork with a very impressive 3,409 first preferences and was probably responsible for the political demise of Dermot Sheehan.
Fianna Fáil councillor Alan Coleman said he was delighted with the party’s result, apart from the fact that former junior minister Michael Ahern failed to win a seat in Cobh-Glanmire.
“It’s the first time for more than a generation we have been the largest party on the council and we will be looking to come to an arrangement with another group or grouping.”
He said Fianna Fáil will be keeping its options open and councillors will meet next week to decide on strategy.
The party will more than likely seek an alliance with Sinn Féin and Labour, which would give that grouping a majority of 29. A deal with the Independents is unlikely as some are Fine Gael-leaning.
Fine Gael’s Kinsale-based Kevin Murphy said: “We expected a backlash, but this was a huge loss to us. It’s a mid-term wake-up call. People didn’t like the decisions we had to make in Government and we [the party] will have to turn ourselves around.”
Sinn Féin organiser Seamus Coleman said the party would have been happy with six seats and was absolutely thrilled to have 10.
“We will call all our newly-elected county councillors together for a meeting next week and we will take it from there. The cosy consensus-type politics in County Hall won’t exist after this election.”
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