FG's superb vote management ticked all boxes
Published 28/02/2011 | 05:00
LESS than nine years after the party's collapse, Fine Gael recorded the best result in its history to become the biggest political party in the country.
Exceptional vote management in a string of constituencies resulted in Fine Gael pulling off a series of significant wins, but the party fell short of being able to go it alone in government.
Fine Gael director of elections Phil Hogan mischievously caused mayhem by refusing to rule out a single-party government on count day.
But Mr Hogan, an architect of the Fine Gael resurgence, was backing off this stance yesterday and accepting that a coalition with the Labour Party was more likely.
Enda Kenny ultimately came away with 75 seats -- five more than Fine Gael's previous best result in November 1982 under Garret Fitzgerald.
The former Taoiseach and legendary Fine Gael leader lavished praise on the party strategy yesterday. "It is the best organised campaign I have seen or known," he said.
From just 36pc of the first preference votes, the party won 75 seats -- a massive bonus of 15 seats.
The party got off to a good start by holding what they had with important holds in Cork South-West and Roscommon-South Leitrim.
Fine Gael also picked off straightforward gains in Cork East, Cork North-West, Sligo-North Leitrim, Longford-Westmeath, Dublin Central, Waterford, Kildare South and Galway West.
Paschal Donohoe's well-deserved win in Dublin Central was the party's feelgood moment in the capital.
Fine Gael pulled off a series of big wins on a good day, with three seats out of five in Wicklow and Carlow-Kilkenny.
The party managed to take two seats in difficult circumstances in the capital's four seaters of Dublin South-East and Dublin Mid-West, and a double in Meath East and Meath West.
It also eked out tight second seats in the four seaters of Louth, Kildare North and even Dun Laoghaire and Dublin North -- with the latter certainly not expected.
Taking a staggering four out of five seats in Mayo was an immense achievement, but was widely predicted and the party actually came close in 2007.
The party machine in Mayo was finetuned, the party ticket geographically balanced and the guaranteed election of Mr Kenny, as Taoiseach-in-waiting, with Michael Ring's enormous vote-getting abilities combined to create the climate where the party was able to raise its vote to a remarkable 65pc.
Arguably, the best result was in Cavan-Monaghan, where it went from one to three seats, despite serious pressure from Sinn Fein, and all three TDs are new -- Heather Humphreys, Joe O'Reilly and Sean Conlan.
But it didn't all go according to plan for Fine Gael.
The party actually had the candidates in the field to win an overall majority if the national vote had headed to 40pc.
Wexford didn't come off at all, with tinkering from the party hierarchy partly to blame, along with Independent Mick Wallace.
Laois-Offaly wasn't a strong enough ticket and Cork South-Central failed because of Micheal Martin's presence.
Cork North-Central and Dublin North-West swung left, with the latter becoming the only constituency in the entire country where the party has no seat whatsoever.
Clare, Galway East, Kerry South, Tipperary South were all a bridge too far.
Taking a second seat in Richard Bruton's Dublin North-Central, Leo Varadkar's Dublin West and Brian Hayes' Dublin South-West was also just too difficult.
The party has managed to get young TDs elected and women, so there is a good mix within the Fine Gael ranks.
Fine Gael's new Limerick County TD Patrick O'Donovan said the vibe from the voters was they were giving the party a chance.
"The biggest thing is people were vesting their loyalties in us. There is a very clear message in that about what happens if we do let them down," he said.