Interesting Electoral Times as Former Mayors Lose Out

Tom Cunningham, a twotime Mayor of Waterford in 1997 and 2004, was among the high-profile casualties of last weekend’s Local Election, along with fellow office holders Hilary Quinlan, Jim Darcy, Seamus Ryan and Jack Walsh. With the national swing against Fine Gael former Cllr Cunningham found the going hard. Issues such as medical cards, other health issues and water charges were raised on the doorstep, while there was a worry about the potential of Waterford Regional Hospital/ University Hospital Waterford being downgraded. Six years of austerity were just too much and with further charges coming in, people have had enough, he felt. The property charges were accepted but water on top of that was just too much, he added. On the question of the merger of the two councils, Tom Cunningham felt people were uncertain how it would work. He confirmed that he would not be standing again at 60 years of age. Having given over 20 years of service, he had given a lot working 20 hours plus a week on Council work, as well as running his own business. Former Mayor, Jim Darcy described it as a bad day at the office. The swing to Sinn Féin had been prominent while he felt the water charge issue had been mishandled, “a botched job by the Department of the Environment”. Other points raised to him included the decline of Waterford city centre, namely the empty shops, a lack of footfall and car parking charges were raised. Shoppers were going to Kilkenny because it was more vibrant, said the former Mayor. He had campaigned to get Barronstrand Street opened up to traffic, a proposal the late Cllr Gary Wyse had also mooted to this newspaper. Confirming that he would remain in the party at community level, Jim Darcy believed that Mary Roche’s opposition to the merger of the councils helped her retain her seat, while her independent status countered the voter back lash against the Government parties. Jack Walsh (Labour) was another Mayor to lose his seat. Former Cllr Walsh felt he had worked hard throughout his time on the Council, and while he felt he had served the people well but the tide was against them. He will continue to work with the Waterford Institute of Technology board in the Technological University upgrade. Former Mayor Cha O’Neill (Ind) survived the swing to Sinn Féin, and was pleased to retain his seat. An experienced political operator, he well could be there in the shake up for the city Mayoral position as the parties will need the support of Independents but no discussions have place yet on that point. Jobs are the biggest issue, he said; he himself has family members in Australia, while the merger proved another one. The sitting Fine Gael and Labour candidates had been hit hard by water charges, hence the rejection by the electorate of so much political experience in FG/Lab ranks. “It’s going to be strange to sit in the new council with so many old friends gone,” he said. “But I was very relieved to be re-elected.” So too was current City Mayor John Cummins, who saw his first preference vote increase from 530 in 2009 to 770. He told this newspaper that the public had handed Fine Gael “a firm hiding at the polls”, replacing many coalition party seats with Independents and Sinn Féin Councillors. Mayor Cummins believes that Sinn Féin have over-promised and wondered how they could “deliver on their promises and rhetoric”. He called for further political debate and believes the media needed to challenge Sinn Féin policies nationally. His father, Seanad Leader Maurice Cummins struck a similar note, challenging Sinn Féin to “live up to their promises,” adding: ” with a majority in Dublin they will have some tough decisions ahead in how to pass a budget”. Senator Cummins put forward the proposition that 16 councillors in the City wards and eight Independents could possibly form a voting block for the Mayoralty in the metropolitan ward. No talks have taken place, but is possible. The youngest candidate to proved successful was 19-yearold Adam Wyse (Fianna Fáil), son of the late Gary Wyse, who died so unexpectedly last year. National issues proved big on the doorsteps as were medical cards and their withdrawal from some of the elderly, he told us, while local matters such as potholes and planning decisions came up in the more rural areas. In the city, Cllr Wyse said the cost of rates had to be looked at in the city and that something positive had to be done. He has also campaigned for ‘Shop Local Saturday’, where people would spend a minimum of €10 in the city centre, to give the beleaguered area a lift. Fellow FF candidate and winner Eamon Quinlan had been very active out in Tramore on the canvass and unlike his running mate Pat Daly, he’d canvassed for many months previously. He spoke about how some of his family had to move away for jobs and also his friends but he was determined to stay and try and achieve change via the political process. A very articulate young man , a business graduate from University of Limerick, Eamon has the ideas and ambition to make an impact and represent the new generation, “who must pick up the pieces from a damaged economy”. Living in Gracedieu, son of Eddie and Eithne Quinlan, Eamon is not related to the defeated Hilary, but grew up very close to the former Mayor’s home. A sportsman, he played on the same football team as Mayor Cummins with De La Salle and also lined out for Waterpark RFC. Cllr Quinlan wants to see free parking for an hour in Waterford to encourage more shoppers, a review of the rates system and, like so many of us, wishes to see more IDA jobs brought into Waterford. New Councillor Eddie Mulligan, who has built a considerable profile via the Waterford Business Group, thanked his team of supporters and canvass team, running with a small team, they had achieved a lot and worked very hard. He will be one to watch in the new Council. TD Paudie Coffey told The Munster Express that “the tide was against” Fine Gael locally and they suffered from being in Government by not getting transfers. He commiserated with the “many excellent councilors” that did not make it, including his brother Brendan in Portlaw (Comeragh). “It’s easy to criticised but being in office carries responsibility,” said Deputy Coffey, who said he is looking forward to working with the newly merged council. While it was a close call for the last seat in Comeragh, party colleague Seanie Power from Rathgormack took his brother ‘s seat, thus retaining the party’s Rathgormack seat that had been vacated by Mary Greene. Mary Butler was one of two winners in Portlaw, thanked her fellow Fianna Fáil Councillor John O’Leary for good vote management. “The transfer strategy worked 100 per cent,” she said. She was the only female candidate in the Comeragh Area and had been campaigning for four months. Married to Michael and a mother of three, she was delighted with her election, and she also thanked her campaign manager, Liam Fogarty. Fellow Portlaw resident Declan Clune (Sinn Féin), though tired like all the count centre at WIT, was delighted to win. It had been a long few days, but he was delighted to win election at the second attempt, having run in Tramore previously. Kilmacthomas resident Ger Barron (Labour) lost his seat in the middle of the county with only one Labour candidate returned to the 32-strong Waterford Council – Tallowbased John Pratt.

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