FINE Gael got 40% of the vote in Killaloe but ended up with just two councillors in the six-seat electoral area, despite one of its candidates topping the poll.
So successful was Joe Cooney in the area that he almost doubled the quota on the first count. Indeed, his surplus was larger than the first preference votes of each of his party colleagues in the area, outgoing Mayor of Clare Joe Arkins and sitting councillor Pat Burke.
The distribution of that surplus, however, did not go where party officials might have liked. Half went across to the four Fianna Fáil candidates and just over a quarter (390) went to his party colleagues.
According to Jim McMahon, Munster organiser for Fine Gael, the party had a strategy in the electoral area but it didn’t work.
“Joe Cooney is someone who, in the last number of elections, has got a very big vote, Joe Cooney’s vote, if you look where his vote transferred, he gets a high Fine Gael vote but he gets a high personal vote too because of the work he does,” he said.
“Some of that vote would transfer back to other parties. That would be an indication that part of his vote is a personal vote and that some of the people who may vote for another party would have voted for Joe Cooney first and then voted for their party or for someone else. We did have a strategy there, we stuck to that strategy but it didn’t work. If people don’t think we looked at this, we most certainly did but it just didn’t work. People will say ‘you should get this person to move votes and that person to move votes. but it is not the easiest thing in the world,” Mr McMahon continued.
In the end, only Joe Cooney and Pat Burke were elected for the party in Killaloe, with Joe Arkins going out on the seventh and final count.
Fianna Fáil’s director of elections, Gerry Reidy, described Councillor Cooney as “a phenomenal vote-getter”.
Former Fine Gael Deputy, Donal Carey, also believes poor vote management cost the party a third in Killaloe.
Speaking during a special Clare Champion Local Election review, Mr Carey agreed if Fine Gael had carved up the constituency much earlier, the party would have won three seats.
“Joe Cooney should have remained out of Flagmount, Killanena and across to Ballinruan and Crusheen. The three candidates knew their basic votes and it was quite easy to go to those people.
“When people look at this, they are inclined to be suspicious of the party and what are they doing,” he said.
Local political analyst Michael Torpey said making phonecalls on Wednesday and Thursday night before the election was too little, too late. “Tallies show Joe Cooney getting 100 votes in Crusheen and Ballinruan. I am not begrudging him votes but if those votes went to Joe Arkins, it would be a different kettle of fish. It was bad vote management.”
Meanwhile, former Defence Minister, Tony Killeen, believes vote management is more accidental than delivered. “The most unusual aspect this time was the fact that FF were attracting transfers on top of a good first preference from everywhere. There was a strong transfer between FF and FG, which has manifested in by-elections previously.
By Nicola Corless & Dan Danaher