FF will find loss of power a bitter pill to swallow


Blance of power on local authorities: There will be big changes in the political shape ofmany councils, writes Frank McDonald.

The most bitter pill for politicians is to be separated from the spoils of office - mayoral chains, committee chairs and other handy little earners. But that's the pill Fianna Fáil will have to swallow because of its disastrous election performance.

In Waterford, home base of the Minister for the Environment, Mr Cullen, who was also the party's director of elections, Fianna Fáil now has a solitary representative on the 15-member city council, and seven councillors in the county, compared to Fine Gael's 11, Labour's four and Sinn Féin's one.

On Galway City Council, Fianna Fáil is reduced to two councillors, compared to Labour's four, three each for Fine Gael and the PDs, one for Sinn Féin and two Independents. It's also down to two in Limerick, compared to five for Fine Gael, four for Labour and six Independents.

There is a common denominator in all three results: a perception that the Government's decentralisation programme had favoured other areas rather than "delivering" for Limerick, Galway and Waterford. In Cork, too, Fianna Fáil has only 11 seats on the 31-member city council.

On Cork County Council, the party won 16 seats, compared to 23 for Fine Gael, six for Labour, one for Sinn Féin and two Independents. It's also outnumbered on Galway County Council, on level pegging with Fine Gael at 10 seats, with three PDs, one Sinn Féin and five others. The same pattern was repeated on Limerick, Cavan and Sligo county councils, where Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ended up with the same number of seats, 12, 11 and 10 respectively. Three went to Labour in Sligo and three to the PDs in Galway, where Labour and Sinn Féin each won a seat.

In Longford and Kilkenny, Fianna Fáil retained eight seats as against Fine Gael's 11.

In Kerry, the pattern was reversed, with 11 seats going to FF and eight to FG. But here, too, Fianna Fáil will be in a minority because both Labour and Sinn Féin won two seats and the Healy-Rae brothers also survived.

And although Fianna Fáil remains the largest party on Clare County Council, it suffered the indignity of being deprived of its majority for the first time in 70 years. The party also lost out in Mayo, where it holds 10 seats compared to Fine Gael's 13, one each for Labour and Sinn Féin and two Independents.

In Wicklow, Fine Gael's six seats and Labour's five eclipse FF's four, with three seats taken by independents. In Wexford, too, FF lags behind FG by six seats to seven, with Sinn Féin taking three, Labour one and four independents. SF's best performance was in Monaghan, where it took seven seats.

The highly publicised relaxation of planning rules on housing in the countryside in advance of the election may have helped to staunch Fianna Fáil's losses elsewhere. It remains the largest party in Donegal, Kildare, Laois, Leitrim, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Tipperary North, Tipperary South and Westmeath.

But it's in Dublin that things turned really sour. On the 52-member city council, Fianna Fáil's representation has plummeted from 20 to just 11, compared to 15 for Labour, 10 each for Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, one each for the Green Party and the PDs and three Independents.

Labour is also the largest party on Fingal County Council, with six of the 24 seats, followed by Fine Gael with five and Fianna Fáil and Independents with four each. The Green Party won three seats - its second best performance in the elections - and one each went to the PDs and Sinn Féin. In the Balbriggan electoral area of Fingal, neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael have a councillor after this election.

The Labour Party also holds the largest number of seats - seven - on South Dublin County Council, compared to six for Fianna Fáil, three for Fine Gael, three each for Sinn Féin and Independents and two each for the Green Party and the PDs.

In the Lucan electoral area there is no representative of the Civil War parties.

In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fianna Fáil now trails Fine Gael with seven councillors elected to its main rival's nine, with Labour now holding six seats and the Green Party four - its best result in any local authority area. The remaining two seats went to the PDs and an independent.

Many of the councillors are new, a spin-off from getting rid of the "dual mandate". On Dublin City Council, no less than 33 of the 52 members - a staggering two-thirds - are taking office for the first time. "That's unprecedented in the history of local government," said the city manager, Mr John Fitzgerald.

The real question is what these councillors will do. "It would be terribly disappointing if they just divvied up the mayoralty and chairs," said Mr Eamon Ryan TD, of the Green Party. "What they should do is to draw up an agenda, like the civic alliance did in 1991, and present this to the city manager".

Mr Fitzgerald anticipates that there will be "a strong shift to the social agenda" as a result of the council's more left-wing hue, but he insisted that this was the agenda being pursued anyway over the past number of years.

Fianna Fáil and Labour had a much-criticised pact on the last council, which was mainly about rotating the prized post of lord mayor. Labour councillors voted for the current incumbent, Cllr Royston Brady.

But it seems almost certain now that Labour will forge a coalition with Fine Gael and others.