Adrian Kavanagh, 4th June 2014
The sudden death on Election Day of Fine Gael County Councillor, Owen Bannigan – Ar dheis dé go raibh a anam – lead to the cancellation of the local election vote for the Ballybay-Clones electoral area in Co. Monaghan. The election for this electoral area will now take place on Saturday 7th June 2014 between 8.00am and 10.00pm. Eleven candidates will now contest this electoral area – one more than the number that were to contest the constituency on May 23rd – with the nine originally nominated candidates being now joined by Cllr. Bannigan’s son, Eugene (who is running for Fine Gael) and an independent candidate, Joseph Duffy. The list of candidates who will be contesting Ballybay-Clones on June 7th are as follows:
Fine Gael: Ciara McPhillips, Hugh McElvaney, Eugene Bannigan
Fianna Fail: Seamus Coyle, Deirdre Kelly, Michael Smyth
Sinn Fein: Cathy Bennett, Pat Treanor
Green Party: Raimonda Leonaviciene
Independents/Non-Party: Paul McPhillips, Joseph Duffy
Ballybay-Clones encompasses the western and central parts of Monaghan County. Relative to the boundaries used for the 2009 Local Elections, it encompasses all of the old Clones electoral area, a significant chunk of the old Castleblaney electoral area (namely the Ballybay area) and smaller parts of the Monaghan electoral area (including Scotstown) and Carrickmacross electoral area. With an area of 588.2 square kilometres, Ballybay-Clones is by far the largest of the three Monaghan electoral areas in territory terms and is the 53rd largest electoral area in the state.
Fine Gael’s highest vote in Monaghan in 2009 was in the Clones electoral area and the late Owen Bannigan polled very well in the Ballybay area (in the old Castleblaney constituency). (The strength of Fine Gael in the Ballybay area was further evidenced in the 46.7% vote share won by the party in the Ballybay Town Council elections.) Given these factors and the not-unrelated factor of this electoral area including a high concentration of Protestant voters, Fine Gael will be hopeful of doing well in Ballybay-Clones despite that party’s loss in support at the May 23rd electoral contests (although the party vote held up better in the other Monaghan electoral areas than it did in the rest of the country). The party currently holds three seats within this new electoral area – having won two in Clones in 2009 (Heather Humphries and Hugh McElvaney), with Owen Bannigan winning a seat in the Castleblaney electoral area thanks mainly to his vote in the Ballybay area. Owen Bannigan’s son, Eugene, is replacing him on the party ticket, while Ciara McPhillips was co-opted to replace Heather Humphries on Monaghan County Council after Humphries won a Dail seat in 2011.
Fianna Fail took one of the two other seats in the Clones four-seat constituency at the 2009 contest, but did win 30.0% of the vote in this constituency and party candidate, John O’Brien, polled exceptionally well in the Ballybay area. O’Brien won a seat in the four-seat Castleblaney electoral area in that election, but he has retired from politics. The only sitting Fianna Fail County Councillor contesting this election, Seamus Coyle, won a seat in Clones in 2009 on the back of a huge personal vote in his home base of Latton (winning well over three quarters of all the votes polled in the two Latton boxes). Deirdre Kelly is a Town Councillor in Clones, while Michael Smyth, a Town Councillor in Ballybay, will be hoping that he is well placed to tap into the old O’Brien vote in the Ballybay area.
Sinn Fein’s Pat Treanor took the other seat in the old Clones electoral area and he will be joined on the Sinn Fein ticket by another Sinn Fein councillor, Cathy Bennett, who was co-opted to replace the late Sheila McKenna on Monaghan County Council in December 2012. Her base would be in Scotstown, in the part of the constituency that was formerly part of the old seven-seat Monaghan (Town) electoral area. Sinn Fein polled exceptionally well in Clones Town and Scotstown in the 2009 contest, but not as well in the more rural parts of the old Clones electoral area or in the Ballybay area.
The “known-unknowns” in this contest are the two independents, Paul McPhillips and Joseph Duffy, as neither of these two independent candidates contested the 2009 contest. Independent candidates have not fared well in the old Clones electoral area, failing to win a seat over the previous three contests and accounting for just 5.5% of the vote in 2014. (Independents did win 11.1%of the vote in the Clones Town Council election, however, with one independent winning a seat in that contest.) The Green Party did not contest the Clones electoral area in 2009, but did contest the Clones and Ballybay Town Council elections, winning just 2.0% of the vote in Clones and 1.8% in Ballybay. The lack of a party base in this area and the small number of votes (91, or 1.0% of the vote) won by the Green candidate in the neighbouring Monaghan (Town) electoral area does not bode well for Raimonda Leonaviciene’s prospects in this contest.