Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Hospital controversy could mean a fine mess for Ollie as Fine Gael fights to keep Mayor role

The controversy over the future of Roscommon County Hospital has cast doubts over the Mayoral ambitions of Fine Gael Councillor Ollie Moore. 

  Cllr. Moore was set to be a shoe-in to become Mayor of Roscommon at the AGM of Roscommon County Council next Monday. Now his anticipated smooth passage into the ‘chair’ is in some jeopardy as existing voting loyalties run the risk of collapsing due to the fall-out from the handling of the hospital issue by the new Government. 

  Having wrestled control in 2010 from a short-lived Fianna Fail/Independents/Sinn Fein Coalition, the power on Roscommon County Council currently lies with a 14-strong alliance of Fine Gael/HAC/Sinn Fein and one Independent. 

  However, assumptions that that Coalition would seamlessly keep nominating Mayors in the coming years without any great risk of defeat can now be dispensed with. 

  Fianna Fail are lying in the long grass and have already begun an informal rounds of contacts in the hope of denying Fine Gael the Mayoral position. Fianna Fail sources say they have a “solid” twelve votes, i.e. eight Fianna Fail councillors and Independents Jimmy Kenny, Tom Crosby, Tony Ward and John Kelly’s replacement, Jim Cogan. 

  As matters stand Fine Gael will nominate Cllr. Moore on Monday. However Sinn Fein Councillor Michael Mulligan told the Roscommon People on Wednesday that he will not support the Fine Gael nominee unless commitments have been given in the meantime on the retention of services at Roscommon County Hospital. 

  Cllr. Mulligan said that he would not support a Fianna Fail candidate but might support Paula McNamara (HAC) if she is a nominee. 

  Fine Gael cannot be certain either of HAC support. Indeed some people would view HAC support for a Fine Gael candidate at this time as strange in light of the current furore over Health Minister James Reilly’s pre-election promises to the people of Roscommon on local hospital services. 

  HAC Councillor Valerie Byrne told the Roscommon People on Wednesday: “Yes, we are in a Coalition with Fine Gael, but a very serious situation has developed (concerning the hospital) and this has opened everything up. We were given commitments and they will have to be honoured if we are to support a Fine Gael nominee. We will meet with Fine Gael ahead of Monday’s meeting and discuss the situation.” 

  Asked if Fine Gael could count on HAC support for the Mayoral position at this point, Cllr. Byrne said: “We were given commitments and they will have to be honoured.” 

  If Fine Gael do not secure the support of the HAC councillors in the weekend talks that will inevitably take place ahead of Monday’s AGM, it is possible that a Mayor could be elected without reaching the traditional 13 or 14 votes required. For example if HAC Councillors Valerie Byrne and Paula McNamara and Sinn Fein’s Michael Mulligan were all to abstain, Fine Gael might be left with just their ten votes and the likely support of Cllr. John Murphy (Independent). That could open the door to a dramatic victory for Fianna Fail and the remaining Independents, although at this stage that remains a tall enough order. Fianna Fail will nominate Cllr. Eugene Murphy, who has been a member of the Council since 1985. 

  All we can say with any degree of certainty is that with marathon talks likely over the coming days, the Mayorship is far from in the grasp of any one individual or party, and with deals likely to be at least attempted – if not necessarily successfully hatched – and abstentions a real possibility – this particular prize is there to be won!

  * As we went to press, Labour Senator John Kelly placed the spotlight on Cllr. Mulligan’s position. 

  “In advance of next Monday’s Council AGM and the election of a new Mayor for County Roscommon, the imminent threat to services at the County Hospital and members’ attitude to same needs to be addressed.

  Cllr. Michael Mulligan was content recently to make noises about the Government members of the Oireachtas and their responsibilities. Obviously Cllr. Mulligan will not now be supporting the candidature, at Monday’s meeting, of anyone linked with a Government party. 

  “This of course would require a consistency on the councillor’s part, so perhaps we shouldn’t hold our breath.” 


* HERE’s the second item, panel 

The story so far

After the 2009 local elections, Roscommon’s 26-strong County Council ‘broke down’ as follows: Fine Gael (10), Fianna Fail (8), Independents (5), HAC (2), Sinn Fein (1). 

  In the circumstances a Fine Gael-led Council seemed inevitable, with the bonus of five Mayorships over five years for whatever Coalition Fine Gael and others would build. 14 votes (a majority on the 26-strong Council) is required to elect a Mayor/secure Council control. 

  However in a much-publicised coup, Fianna Fail wrangled power from under Fine Gael’s noses, cobbling together fourteen votes with this unlikely partnership: Fianna Fail (8), Independents (5) and Sinn Fein (1). That meant Tony Ward (Independent) took the Mayoral mantle in ‘year one’. 

  Then-Independent Cllr. John Kelly was set to serve as Mayor from June 2010, but there was drama ahead. After all sorts of behind-the-scenes machinations (exclusively revealed in the Roscommon People) the Fianna Fail/Independent/Sinn Fein alliance collapsed and was replaced by a new alliance. Cllr. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan became the new Mayor as he and others responded to overtures from HAC Councillors with the County Hospital issue the alleged catalyst for the change. 

  The new ‘gang of 14’ was Fine Gael (10), HAC (2), Cllr. Flanagan (Independent) and Sinn Fein (1). 

  Cllr. Flanagan has since become Deputy Flanagan and been replaced on the Council by his nominee, Cllr. John Murphy. Cllr. John Kelly has become Senator Kelly and been replaced on the Council by his nominee, Cllr. Jim Cogan. 

  Until this week it would have been assumed that the Fine Gael/HAC/Sinn Fein/Independent (Cllr. Murphy in place of ‘Ming’) alliance would hold, with the Fine Gael Mayoral nominee, Cllr. Ollie Moore, set to take the chain of office on Monday. However that assumption is now about as reliable as a pre-election promise – and with the coveted and well-paid position of first citizen up for graps again the shadow that continues to hover over aspiring Mayors remains that of the imposing Roscommon County Hospital.