Friday 13 December 2019

SF's Melissa O'Neill in the lead after just three weeks of campaigning

Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

SINN Fein delivered another shock as a community campaigner overtook political veterans after campaigning on the doorsteps for a mere three weeks.

Melissa O'Neill (43), from Ferrybank, Co Kilkenny, confessed her shock after she surged well-ahead in Kilkenny's Piltown - District, surpassing well-known candidates including Fianna Fail's sitting councillor Eamon Aylward, a nephew of the outgoing MEP Liam.

"I only came into the campaign three weeks ago," said Ms O'Neill, who remains just 18 votes short of being elected when counting resumes at 9am.

"I'm just amazed," said the lone parent, adding housing would be key issue for her after working as a community support worker aiding women in Ferrybank for several years.

"The reaction on the doorsteps was 'we need change' - it was a cry for help from the people really." And, just a few votes behind her was The boundary changes are delivering major upsets in Kilkenny City - West - which is set to be revealed on the second day of the count - with early tallies showing former poll topper and father-of-14 Fine Gael's Billy Ireland unlikely to get a seat, and the city’s outgoing Mayor, Cllr Martin Brett, in difficulties.

Reflecting the carnage nationwide, Labour looked set to lose two out of four seats in the Kilkenny districts, with the party's Maurice Shortall proving the saviour as he topped the tally in Castlecomer as the results of the first count finally came through after more than 13-hours.

The only candidate elected on the first day in Kilkenny was Mr Shortall, who punched the air as he was held aloft, said:"The traditional ground for the Labour Party was always to stand in the gap between those who have and those who have not. Unfortunately because we have failed to live up to our obligation we have paid the ultimate penalty here."

Lagging 32 votes off the quota was Fine Gael's Mary Hilda Cavanagh, who turned 63 the day before the voting, stating her eighth election may be her last and she would have been "bitterly disappointed" to lose her seat after 40 years in politics.

And it looks like Fianna Fáil's gains will see it take control of the Kilkenny Council, with tallies indicating at least 11, if not 12, out of 24 seats.

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, John McGuinness, said the public had sent out a clear message that it was time for a change of direction in politics.

The Carlow-Kilkenny TD, who has already signalled his intention to take over the helm from Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, said the party would have to "reflect long and hard" on the election results.

"It is time for a change of direction in politics," he said.

Mr McGuinness revealed he continued to hold "leadership ambitions" but there was a more important issue of party structure and performance to be addressed.

"But my firm belief is it can't be business as usual and things will have to change," warned Mr McGuinness on his home turf in the Springhill Court Hotel.

The McGuinness dynaste looked in safe hands in Kilkenny as the PAC chair's son Andrew McGuinness topped the tallies of poll in Kilkenny City - East - which will be totted up on the second day -  with Fianna Fail's newcomer, former Kilkenny hurler and bank worker, Peter 'Chap' Cleere (31), just behind him after venturing onto doorsteps for the first time.


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