*PJ Ryan (IND). Photograph: John Mangan

ONE OF three sitting councillors to lose his seat at the local elections, PJ Ryan (IND) said he was “devastated” with the outcome.

Five years on from recording his highest vote, PJ lost his seat in the Shannon Municipal District on the eleventh and final count when he was 82 votes behind Cllr Tony Mulcahy (FG) who made a successful return to politics, eight years after finishing up in the Seanad.

For the 2024 local elections, PJ polled 986 first preference votes. The big focus during the tallies and following the first count was that Cllr Michael Begley (IND) with 831 first preferences was the sitting councillor in the most danger. However, transfers from Cllr Rachel Hartigan (FF) and Val Gillane (FG) proved to be Begley’s saving grace while PJ needed Cllr Pat O’Gorman (FF) to get elected sooner to save his cause.

When the result was announced, he had Cllr Mary Howard (FG) by his side, she patted his back as he turned to his left commented “well that’s that” and exited the count centre. “It was an emotional time and it still is, it is hard to put it behind you but you have to put it behind you and march on. At the end of the day, who knows what is down the road, nobody knows what will happen”.

Ryan polled 1238 first preference votes in the Shannon Municipal District in 2019, a sharp rise on his previous tallies of 825 (2014), 1013 (2009), 700 (2004) and 452 (1999).

An elected member of the Council since 2009, PJ said he was “devastated” to lose his seat. “I had done three terms but I’ve been involved at politics at a local level for a lot longer, I was involved with the Community Forum and Clare Local Development Company, I’ve been involved in politics for fifty years, I was a member of a party (Fianna Fáil) for thirty years and served at every level in the party, unfortunately in 2008 they decided they wouldn’t go with me and I was successful in three elections after that and always increased my number one vote in the three elections. I was always aware going into this election that there was going to be a decrease in my number one vote because of my parish man (Pat O’Gorman) running in my parish, I knew my vote was going to be cut back”.

O’Gorman conducted a “massive campaign”, this was cited as a key factor in PJ’s decrease in votes. He admitted that he hadn’t forecasted a drop of 252 first preference votes and that he underestimated the importance of social media. “I said to myself coming into the election that if I got somewhere between 950 and 1000 I had a great chance of taking a seat, as it turned out I got 956 and that was after Pat O’Gorman took the bones of 300 votes out of Cratloe which I would have got the last time”.

Subsequent to the election he became aware that phone calls were made were voters were told that PJ’s seat was safe and this influenced them to give their vote to someone else. “The phone calls were saying ‘PJ is okay there is no need to vote for him, vote for X instead’, that affected me a bit”.

When asked by The Clare Echo if that was ‘dirty politics’, PJ said, “It might sound like sour grapes if I described it as dirty tactics and I don’t want to go down the road of saying that. I’d be more inclined to say it was cute moves, it was part of the well-oiled Fianna Fáil machine and I’m very slow to go down the road of sounding sour, that was part of it, I had a phone call last Tuesday morning from a former Minister and he said ‘if people had the chance today you would get 1500 or 1600 votes’, I’ve had phone calls from very senior people in the last couple of days and I’m getting emotional now,” he said with tears in his eyes.

He added, “At the end of the day I still didn’t get a bad vote, I’d be still happy enough and under normal circumstances 950 votes would have got you over the line, Fianna Fáil with Rachel Hartigan’s vote, Pat O’Gorman’s vote and David Griffin’s vote amounted to 4,500 which is a huge take of the vote when the total was around 11,500 in the Shannon MD, it is a massive amount”.

Of annoyance to PJ was that new arrivals to the country got a vote. “If I want to go down the road of talking about sour grapes the one thing that I’d be slightly sour about is the amount of immigrants and migrants that voted, they all had a vote including Ukrainians and they probably will be gone out of the country in twelve months or a year and a half and we the people of the electoral area in Clare will be left with the aftermath of that, they will have had a say on the day but they possibly could have changed the course”.

Persons residing in Knockalisheen, the Radisson, the Castle Hotel and the Oakwood were among those he referenced. In terms of candidates who benefitted as a result, PJ said, “I suppose some of the smart people who got a mini-bus went into a polling booth and voted with them, fair play to them for doing that but the gripe I would have is that they got the chance to vote in our local area and will probably be gone out of it in twelve months time and we’ll be left with what they chose, it is the one thing I’d be sour about”.

O’Gorman damaged his vote in Cratloe but the addition of poll-topper David Griffin (FF) to the ticket took from him in Sixmilebridge. “He has Sixmilebridge connections, his mother (Veronica) is from Sixmilebridge and his grandfather and grandmother are from Cratloe which didn’t help me either, it wouldn’t be a very big secret that Pat McMahon, John Crowe and myself always managed the vote in the Newmarket-on-Fergus, Sixmilebridge and Cratloe area between us, that helped a lot but we always pulled together and have been great friends and we knew what to do to pull out the maximum vote between the three of us”.

With the Shannon MD electorate opting for fresh blood, PJ was a casualty of this approach, he acknowledged. “There’s no doubt about it. When you bring in fresh blood it is easier to convince people that they have a better chance but at the end of the day without sounding sour either I think experience is essential as well, with the best will in the world new people coming in will take at least three years to get used to what is happening. Young people are ambitious and will want to move on further, I wouldn’t have had any ambitions of moving on anywhere only looking after the local people”.

Prior to the election, PJ had expected the 2024-2029 Council term would be his last. “I had envisaged that but I don’t know because if you said to me today will you run again I would say yes but that depends on my health five years down the road, we’ll see how it goes, I’m not ruling out a comeback but it is dependent on my health. I will look at it before the next election and see how much business is unfinished and if it would benefit my community if I put my name on the ballot paper again, I’d be thinking in those terms”.

He will only return to politics if it could benefit the area, PJ stressed. “You are at the public’s mercy. I wouldn’t ever like to tell the public what to do, I’d be saying whoever is around judge me on what I did before, if it is a thing that when I come to making my decision that I feel the people who have been elected have done a good job then I wouldn’t stand in their way either. At the end of the day my main thing would be that my Municipal District and county is going well, a personal thing wouldn’t come into it, I would always have the interest of the Shannon MD and county at heart, if that meant I stand back then I would do that”.

Reflecting on his loss, he said he should have used social media more. “I wouldn’t be terribly well conversed with social media, I’ve learned a lot about it but I could have got members of my family to do more on social media, I have five relatively young sons, they or their wives and partners would have helped me if I asked for help”.

That he didn’t forced him to confess that he was complacent in advance of polling day, “I thought that I’d be elected on my work”. LIS and CIS schemes in Cratloe, the primary care centre for Sixmilebridge, the One Shannon Hub, completion of the LNDR, the South Clare SDZ, Brennan’s Cross safety improvements in Meelick and affordable housing schemes across the MD were among the projects he had hoped to progress further in the next five years.

Given that the Independents were polling well nationally, it added to the expectation that PJ would have been returned. “Maybe I relied too much to what I was listening to in the media, what was coming out of national and local media maybe I was relying too much on that and what I was hearing with Independents top of the pile but it is easy to be wise a day after or a week after. Financially I’m going to find it a massive shock because I spent a lot of money, there is a gratuity payment but most of that will go on what I spent and there is no pension”.

On the spending, he estimated his total costs to have be in the region of €30,000, “I won’t get reimbursed for that but I will get a gratuity payment but it will eat up that and there’s bills out there that I don’t know about it. I’m not entitled to a pension”.

Two of his former colleagues, Gerry Flynn (IND) and Pat McMahon (FF) opted to exit politics on their own terms, the loss is made more difficult for the Cratloe man given that the choice was taken out of his hands by the electorate. “It makes it more devastating but what makes it worse altogether is when you’ve all these people ringing you the following day to say ‘we’re devastated you lost your seat’. I came up against a massively oiled Fianna Fáil machine, I don’t think there was any intention there to get me out but it was just the tactics worked like that”.

Although he was unsuccessful in getting elected in 1999 and 2004, PJ said the 2024 campaign was by far the most competitive. “I’ve ran in a couple of elections, another I was unsuccessful in but this was definitely the most competitive, when you’ve fifteen candidates and that is another thing, the ballot paper was a total disaster altogether, people just didn’t know where to go with the ballot paper, it is something that needs to be looked at and even for the European elections with 23 candidates it was a total disaster, talking about a secret ballot it was hanging all over the place, I went into the polling booth when I was voting myself and I could see the ballot paper hanging out and there was no secret ballot paper, there needs to be a different system for the names. Alphabetically I was down at the bottom of the list so I was the very last name on it, they say when you’re top of the ballot it gives you a fifteen percent better chance but there again if you look at it like that there was people up at the top who didn’t get in so I don’t know is that a weak argument”.

To improve this, he suggested the names of candidates go side by side rather than one long list on the ballot paper and to have a bigger font. “You’d be surprised the amount of people that go to vote and never bring their glasses, they’d be depending on people able to see the names, several people called me to say they couldn’t read the ballot paper because the font was so small”.

Life out of politics will require a big adjustment for the Cratloe man. “In my own business, I’m only there in an advisory capacity because my sons are running the business, I’ve to look after my wife which is the most important thing, she has had serious health problems over the last number of years, she was on life support for eleven and a half days a short while ago, I have to look after her, that is my most important task so I have to put my own devastation and sorrow behind me. I’d always be advocating positivity so I’ve to do that myself and tell other people to think positive so now I’ve to do a reverse strategy and think of myself”.

Elected Mayor of Clare in June 2021, this was the high-point of his political career. “I was Mayor of Clare and of Shannon which was massive, I was involved in several high profile projects like the Nan Hogan Memorial and the erection of a monument in honour of her, if I started naming projects I was involved in you’d want two papers to write it. One of the things I would be extremely proud of was some of the people I proposed in my term and other terms for Mayoral awards, I was really proud to propose young people for Mayoral awards, sometimes people don’t think of people who can’t vote and young people that I proposed couldn’t vote but they were worthy of a Mayoral award. I was always a massive advocate for Shannon Airport, I will try to promote it, both Pat McMahon and myself were always fiercely fighting for Shannon Airport, I would like to continue that because I genuinely believe Shannon Airport is the engine of our county”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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