News Elections

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Coalition feels the fury of the people at the ballot box

Independents are the big winners Sinn Fein surges - but falls short Labour meltdown - knives out for Gilmore Fine Gael damaged - Enda ‘walloped’ again Fianna Fail out of crisis - Micheal Martin safe

JODY CORCORAN, JOHN DRENNAN, and DANIEL McCONNELL

Published 25/05/2014 | 02:30

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Mary Hanafin with her mother (right) after her election at the count in City West.  Picture:  GERRY MOONEY
Mary Hanafin with her mother (right) after her election at the count in City West. Picture: GERRY MOONEY
An emotional Mary Hanafin with her mother (right) after her election at the count in City West.  Picture:  GERRY MOONEY
An emotional Mary Hanafin with her mother (right) after her election at the count in City West. Picture: GERRY MOONEY
24/05/2014 Ballot Boxes being opened at the count centre for the local and european elections in the TF Royal Hotel, Castlebar. Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan
24/05/2014 Ballot Boxes being opened at the count centre for the local and european elections in the TF Royal Hotel, Castlebar. Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan

The Government has taken a massive 'wallop' in the elections after hundreds of thousands of voters – the Coping Class – moved dramatically to the Left in protest at six years of biting austerity.

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In what amounts to the most significant electoral shift in several decades, Independent candidates and Sinn Fein have emerged as overwhelming victors while Fianna Fail has also marginally increased its share of the vote.

While Sinn Fein has recorded a surge in support, the party is unlikely to break through the critical 20 per cent ceiling to challenge Fine Gael or Fianna Fail in the next General Election.

Independent or non-party candidates, who are expected to take a massive 28 per cent of the local elections vote, are the real winners.

As the first results began to come in last night, the overall outcome was clear: the squeezed middle has taken revenge on the mainstream parties in what is nothing short of a ballot box revolution.

Dejected Labour minister Pat Rabbitte said: "In Ireland, people don't march down Grafton Street and break windows, but by God, they vent their vengeance in the ballot box."

Stunned Government ministers were last night anxious to stress they had heard the electorate's 'enough is enough' clarion call – but with €2bn in taxes and cuts pencilled in for October's Budget, the Coalition is now facing a period of huge instability.

The spotlight has immediately fallen on Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, whose position looks to be under serious threat as a result of his party's implosion.

The high-profile loss of Oisin Quinn, Lord Mayor of Dublin, is symbolic of the party's woes. Last night, Mr Gilmore claimed there was "no question" over his leadership but his main rival, Joan Burton, has pointedly refused to endorse the Tanaiste.

Another leadership contender, Minister of State Alan Kelly, last night said: "Personalities in the Labour Party need to change," and added it was "too soon" to decide if Eamon Gilmore needed to be replaced.

While Fine Gael has also fared poorly, it is Labour which has borne the brunt of voters' anger, dropping support to between six and seven per cent, according to tally figures and an EU elections poll for RTE.

Last night Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "It's been a very disappointing day for the Labour Party." Mr Kenny also said the Government had received a "very clear" message: "I believe we need to redouble our efforts."

In the European poll Sinn Fein's Lynn Boylan will be elected in Dublin, with four candidates in contention for the other two seats: Brian Hayes (FG), Eamon Ryan (Greens), Mary Fitzpatrick (FF) and Nessa Childers (Ind).

In Ireland South, Fianna Fail's Brian Crowley will easily top the poll, followed by Sinn Fein's Liadh Ni Riada: Fine Gael is tipped to win the final two seats, with Sean Kelly and a shoot-out between Deirdre Clune and Simon Harris.

In Midlands North West, Independent TD Luke 'Ming' Flanagan will romp home and Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness will also be elected, but Sinn Fein's Matt Carthy faces a battle with Independent Marian Harkin and Fianna Fail's Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher and Thomas Byrne.

In the by-elections, Socialist Party councillor, Ruth Coppinger won, ahead of Fianna Fail's David McGuinness, who finished second for the second time again and Sinn Fein came in third. Labour's Loraine Mulligan suffered a poor seventh place finish.

Fine Gael's Gabrielle McFadden took the seat in Longford-Westmeath caused by the death of her sister, Nicky, last March. Ms McFadden polled 25 per cent of first-preferences, followed by Fianna Fail's Aengus O'Rourke at 18 per cent. McFadden was elected on the seventh count early this morning.

While the devastation of the Labour Party was not unexpected, the leadership had hoped voters would give the party some credit and did not expect such a wipe-out. Last night, Labour's deputy leader Joan Burton would not rule out the possibility of a change of party leader. The Social Protection Minister said there needed to be changes at the top of the party, which she said had been given a "shellacking by the electorate".

Asked specifically if she would consider launching a heave against Gilmore, she said: "I'm not going to call anything like that until we have all of the results in."

While she said she had "confidence" in Eamon Gilmore, Joan Burton gave a far from ringing endorsement. On two occasions during an interview with reporters at the Citywest count centre in Dublin, Burton called for an examination of "the way business is done" within the party.

Asked if he thought Eamon Gilmore's leadership was secure yesterday, Pat Rabbitte, the Communications Minister, said: "I do yeah, I do yeah, I do yeah."

But last night, Labour TD Arthur Spring said Eamon Gilmore's leadership was one of the issues the party had to consider given the result. "That's one of the questions that has to be asked," he said.

Labour sources, meanwhile, said that a "stalking horse" candidate would have to emerge within a week.

Last night, Eamon Gilmore called on his party to "pull together and work together" and promised to act on the message of the elections: "The people of the country have sent a very loud and clear message to the Government and indeed to the Labour Party," he said.

Fine Gael was last night also licking its wounds after the electorate's lurch to the Left in what represents a stunning rebuke to both Coalition parties. While relieved to hold its seat in Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael's first preference vote in the local (24 per cent) and European (22 per cent) elections is a massive fall in support since the party swept to power with 36 per cent support in the General Election just three years ago.

In the most intriguing head-to-head of the local elections, former Fianna Fail minister Mary Hanafin was elected on the first count and Kate Feeney, her official party rival, was last night also set to take a seat in Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown.

Last night the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, said the bitter conflict over Hanafin's nomination was now "water under the bridge". Hanafin also said the turf war was over and said she was "looking forward to working" with Martin.

Martin hailed the elections as "a good day" for Fianna Fail and said it marked a very encouraging recovery for the party. In truth, the party's performance nationally was adequate: Fianna Fail looks set to increase its share of the vote by 5 per cent on the disastrous General Election which decimated it in 2011, an outcome which leaves the leadership of Martin secure.

Sunday Independent

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