Jubilant new kid on the block pledges to be 'voice of people'
WITH a victorious thumbs-up sign and a broad smile, Labour's new kid on the block yesterday strode on to the national political stage promising to be a "voice for the people" and to fight for equality and social justice.
Local councillor and Focus Ireland worker Pat Nulty (28) was greeted with jubilant applause from his ecstatic supporters as he arrived with his parents, Patrick and Rose.
The focus elsewhere may have been on the presidency but the drama of the Dublin West by-election managed to entice four government ministers to the count centre -- including Tanaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.
From early on, it was clear that the game was up to fill the seat left vacant earlier this year by former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan -- Fianna Fail's only remaining TD in Dublin following the party's general election meltdown.
Even with hours to go before the first count was announced, tally figures were giving the seat to the Labour man.
And Mr Nulty's win showed that Labour had bucked a 29-year trend by his becoming the first government party candidate to take a by-election seat since Fianna Fail's Noel Treacy pulled off a similar feat in Galway East in 1982.
Despite opposing Labour's entry into Coalition and the fact that the party's share of the vote had dropped by about 4pc since the last election, Mr Nulty took the seat from the 12 other contenders -- managing to grab 8,665 first-preference votes along the way.
"This seat doesn't belong to any individual or party, it belongs to the people of Dublin West," declared the winner, who overcame adversity at an early age after he almost died during a house fire as a two-year-old.
"I am very pleased with the result Labour got. I said all through the campaign that I intended to be a principled, constructive voice within the Labour Parliamentary Party and I am going in (to the Dail) with a positive attitude," he said.
Tanaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore described it as a great result and said it was the first time in almost three decades that a government party had won a by-election.
"This is hugely significant and is a great tribute to Pat Nulty, the party organisation in Dublin West and in particular to Joan Burton [already a sitting TD in the constituency]," he said.
Despite its general election meltdown, Fianna Fail was delighted with the showing of its candidate David McGuinness with one senior party figure quipping: "Nobody is going to break out the champagne but we are back in the game."
Onlookers might have been forgiven for thinking McGuinness had managed to grab the seat as he arrived to the sound of loud applause and cheers from his supporters.
"We are absolutely blown away by our performance," said the Fianna Fail man, who managed to pull in 7,742 first preferences, just 1,123 votes behind Mr Nulty.
"Fianna Fail are fighting across this country and that fight starts now," was his bullish comment.
Fine Gael's director of elections, Minister of State Brian Hayes, described the result as a disappointing one for his party.
"At the end of the day, this is a local contest and I don't see it as a permanent decline for Fine Gael but we, as a party locally and nationally, need to work out what went wrong."
In classic understatement, his Fine Gael colleague Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said it had not been a good day for his party.
But he said he was consoled by the fact that Michael D Higgins would be the ninth president and that Mr Nulty had ended a 29-year trend by winning the by-election for a government candidate.
"It was a good result for Fianna Fail, both in Dublin West and for their proxy candidate for the presidency (Sean Gallagher)," he said.
It showed that the Fianna Fail party "haven't gone away", he added.