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The count centre at the SETU Arena in Waterford. Wa
Local Elections

Sinn Féin bucks the trend in Waterford council as FF returns with lowest seat tally in decades

The weekend’s results also saw the Green Party get wiped out and a controversial deputy mayor lose his seat to a challenger from his own party.

DESPITE A BAD election nationally for Sinn Féin, the party managed to not only hold its vote in Waterford but make some major breakthroughs in the city and county.

However, Fine Gael is now the largest party overall on the council with eight seats, the same number as independents.

There were 32 seats up for grabs on the council, which has seen seats split more or less evenly between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and an assortment of independents since the local authority’s amalgamation a decade ago.

The weekend’s results saw Fianna Fáil return with their lowest seat number in decades, the Green Party get wiped out and a controversial deputy mayor lose his seat to a young challenger from his own party.

As the name suggests, Waterford City and County Council is a combination of six urban and rural districts.

In 2019 Sinn Féin saw its local government representation in wiped in many councils except for Waterford, where prominent party frontbencher David Cullinane has a Dáil seat, and the anomaly continued this year as far as the party is concerned.

It increased its seats by two, with party organisers crediting strong transfers between its various candidates, although it’s likely to be disappointed in not adding to its city-based numbers despite standing 11 candidates.

Only four of these turned into Sinn Féin seats – all incumbent councillors.

There wasn’t total harmony, as veteran councillor John Hearne blasted the party for forgetting its “republican” identity during the campaign.

But Sinn Féin’s big successes were in the west, where Donnchadh Mulcahy doubled the party’s 2019 vote to receive almost 20 percent of first preferences in Lismore to claim a historic victory. In Dungarvan, Conor McGuinness – a running mate of TD Cullinane in the next general election – came close to doing similar when he got 1,376 first preferences to be elected on the first count.

For Fine Gael, its senator John Cummins told The Journal he was delighted to see the party take a quarter of the council’s seats and become the largest party when “many were writing us off” before the vote.

It lost a sizable name in outgoing deputy mayor Declan Doocey, who had been at the centre of a controversy around an unpaid €700,000 bill to his own council for a plastic waste landfill.

The landfill was shut down after the local authority brought Doocey to the High Court.

You can read more about the ongoing standoff here.

But in Doocey’s stead is Niamh O’Donovan, a young social worker who topped the poll in Lismore for Fine Gael.

The party won an astonishing vote in Portlaw-Kilmacthomas, further topping the poll in Dungarvan and Tramore-City West.

Independents won as many seats as Fine Gael, and many of these were associated with independent TD Matt Shanahan.

The victories are viewed as important by the main parties, as the previous independent to hold a seat in Waterford – John Halligan – saw almost all of his allied councillors losing their seats shortly before he called it a day ahead of the 2020 General Election.

One independent success was Declan Barry in City East, who defected from Fianna Fáil after local party members voted against putting him forward for election.

It likely cost Fianna Fáil its councillor Stephanie Keating’s seat, with the party returning its smallest number of councillors in Waterford in decades. Its vote share was down 3.6 percent on 2019 and lost two seats, leaving it with just five.

One bright spot for the party was that close allies of Minister of State Mary Butler were able to take their seats with a degree of comfort.

For smaller parties, the Greens lost their two seats on the council. One of the defeated, Jody Power, criticised party leader and transport minister Eamon Ryan for “poisoning the air” over a failure to greenlight the redevelopment of Waterford Airport.

Labour retained three of its four sets and the Social Democrats now has its first councillor in Waterford after it recruited independent councillor Mary Roche.

Now here’s a look at each area.

Waterford City East (6 seats)

David Daniels, son of the late nine-time councillor Davy Daniels, continued his family’s lengthy representation on the local authority by topping the poll.

Declan Barry, another independent who campaigned primarily on local issues, was elected on the first count. Both were first-time candidates.

Pat Fitzgerald, a veteran Sinn Féin councillor in Dumore East, took a seat as did Fianna Fáil’s Adam Wyse.

Jim D’Arcy won back a seat for Fine Gael and Mary Roche, of the Social Democrats, took the final seat.

Waterford City South (6 seats)

All outgoing councillors were returned to their seats in the area.

Donal Barry, a left of centre independent councillor, toped the poll on the first count with 17 percent of first preferences in the area, which has a strong working class base.

Sinn Féin’s two sitting councillors, John Hearne and Joeanne Bailey, Fianna Fáil’s Jason Murphy and Frank Quinlan of Fine Gael also claimed seats.

Longtime Labour councillor Seamus Ryan took the other seat.

Tramore-Waterford City West (6 seats)

Fine Gael’s Tramore-based Lola O’Sullivan topped the poll in the area, receiving more than 1,300 first preferences.

A strong independent vote sawsitting councillors Joe Kelly and Joe Conway both returning.

There was a comeback from Blaise Hannigan, an independent who lost his seat five years ago. Hannigan will be combining his councillor’s duties with work for TD Matt Shanahan’s constituency office.

Sinn Féin’s Jim Griffin also reclaimed his seat, with the final seat taken by outgoing Fianna Fáil councillor Eamon Quinlan.

There was disappoimtent for the Greens as Cristíona Kiely failed to maintain the party’s seat in Tramore. She had been co-opted onto the seat in place of poll-topping Marc Ó Cathasaigh, after he was to the Dáil in 2020.

Portlaw-Kilmacthomas (5 seats)

Fine Gael powered to two seats here in this mid-county district. Their councillors Liam Brazil and Seamie Power claimed an astonishing 45% of the vote – approximately 3,500 first preferences.

Next was Fianna Fail’s John O’Leary who comfortably reclaimed his seat.

Declan Clune was running as an independent for the first time after his departure from Sinn Féin and he took the fourth seat after maintaining a strong vote.

The final seat went to his old party. It ran three candidates, with transfers ensuring school principal Catherine Burke maintained a lead over Fianna Fáil.

Labour lost a seat due to the retirement of Ger Barron and didn’t field a candidate.

Dungarvan (6 seats)

Another poll topped by Fine Gael as former Mayor of Waterford Damien Geoghegan met the quota on the first count.

Sinn Féin’s Conor McGuinness was next, meeting the quota, and Tom Cronin (Fianna Fáil) and Pat Nugent (Fine Gael) claimed the other seats.

The only change was independent Séamus O’Donnell losing his seat to local postmaster Joe O’Riordan, also an independent.

Lismore (3 seats)

Changes are usually unlikely where there are few seats on offer, but Labour’s John Pratt was the only one to retain his seat here.

As outlined above, Fine Gael’s Niamh O’Donovan outpaced party colleage Declan Doocey to take a seat. O’Donovan topped the poll in the process.

The other seat went to Sinn Féin, with Donnchadh Mulcahy doubling Sinn Féin’s vote share.

Fianna Fáil failed to reclaim a seat that was held until the death of longtime councillor James Tobin.

You can read about how councils in Dublin, Cork and Galway went by following those links, and about the Limerick mayoral election here.

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