Kenny slams outgoing government after rout
Ireland's new leader-in-waiting, Enda Kenny, tonight launched a fierce attack on the outgoing government for being removed from the people.
The Fine Gael chief, on course to be the new Taoiseach as the country's election results unfolded, told the Press Association that politicians should learn a lesson from the annihilation meted out to his rivals at the polls.
Before attending the count in his home town of Castlebar, Co Mayo, Mr Kenny said the Irish people have given a strong verdict on what kind of government they now want.
In his first interview since the phenomenal success began to unfold, Mr Kenny described his victory as a great day.
"In a national sense - obviously I've been looking at some of the results - this is a great day for the Fine Gael party," Mr Kenny said.
"The party set out to achieve two ambitions principally. The first was to be the largest party in the Dail and that's been achieved. The second was to increase our vote and seats and that's also been achieved.
"We won't know the final conclusions, particularly until the Fianna Fail eliminations have taken place, as to where those votes will go because in many cases there isn't a second candidate for them to transfer to.
"That will have a bearing on a number of seats and it could be critical to the overall outcome.
"The lesson from this general election is that government should never remove themselves from the people. The people have voted with vigour and strength and they have given their answer as to the remove the government placed itself in over the last number of years."
Mr Kenny refused to comment on the make-up of the next government.
He said his party had been given a strong mandate for their plan for the future and they would be hoping to implement it whatever the make-up of the government.
Fine Gael is on course to secure 70-plus seats.
The new government is likely to be a coalition with Labour or, if the numbers stack up, Fine Gael backed by Independents.
Mr Kenny made the damning criticism of the decimated Fianna Fail party as its candidates up and down the country were left reeling by voter wrath.
In Dublin, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan clung on to his political career and, although the figures were yet to be confirmed, he looked set to come in last place in Dublin West.
Outspoken Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins got in ahead of him.
Elsewhere, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan was in a dogfight to keep her Donegal South-West seat.
She failed to get even half the quota, with party insiders warning that she had been outpolled by hundreds in her own backyard, the Frosses area.
Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin, the Fianna Fail deputy leader, was in a similar battle in Dun Laoghaire, facing a scrap for the last seat with Richard Boyd-Barrett of People Before Profit and Labour's Ivana Bacik.
Some analysts were warning that Fianna Fail, in power for the last 14 years, would end up with just one seat in Dublin. It had 18 TDs in the capital after the 2007 election.
Nationwide it is expected that the party will only get 20-something seats.
On the coalition prospects, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was elected on the first count in Dun Laoghaire.
"It's an historic day for the Labour Party," he said.
"This is the first election in the history of the state that the Labour Party is going to emerge as the second largest."
Mr Gilmore said it was too early to start calling the final numbers of seats but said results signalled a coalition between Fine Gael and Labour.
"That is the most likely outcome, there's no doubt about that," he said.
"But it is early in the day and I would not like to make a final call on that until I see more results."
Independent Shane Ross won a resounding victory in Dublin South, topping the poll with 17,075, and became the first non-party candidate to be returned.
Mr Kenny said his first priority was to tell the world that Ireland was now set on a new track under his Fine Gael party, whose focus is to create jobs.
"I intend to send out a clear message around the world that this country has given my party a massive endorsement to provide stable and strong government with a clear agenda," he said.
"That's absolutely critical."
Hundreds who packed out the Castlebar count centre thronged towards the Fine Gael leader as he arrived to a triumphant reception, with shouts of "Taoiseach, Taoiseach" from the crowd.
An hour after he entered the Theatre Royal by a side door, Mr Kenny had still not reached the other side of the room as followers pushed and shoved to congratulate him, while many more filled the balconies hoping to catch a glimpse of him.