Ahern leads resurgent Fianna Fail to power but now battle begins to form a stable government as PDs are decimated
BERTIE Ahern yesterday pulled off a sensational hat-trick of general election wins as he swept back into power after an amazing comeback in the toughest campaign of his career.
But despite its stunning successes, Fianna Fail is likely to fall a number of seats short of the crucial 83 figure which would enable it to govern on its own.
Tanaiste Michael McDowell was the highest profile casualty during an astonishing day.
The PD leader dramatically resigned from politics on the spot as soon as he lost his seat.
"My period in public life as a public representation is over," he said.
Fianna Fail's chances of an overall majority were receding early this morning as they looked like ending up below the 80-seat mark, finishing with either 77 or 78 seats.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he expected Fianna Fail's tally would be around 78. He said an upsurge in support from under-25 voters had given his party the edge.
There was still uncertainty over the final outcome of crucial seats in Donegal North-East, Cork South Central, Mayo, Wicklow, Carlow-Kilkenny and Tipperary North.
Recounts will also begin this morning in Laois-Offaly, Dublin South Central and Dublin North, where there is to be a total recount.
There are three possible coalition options for Fianna Fail, depending on their final seat total.
1. Fianna Fail and the PDs which would almost certainly require a deal with a number of Independents.
2. Fianna Fail and the Greens.
3. Fianna Fail and Labour.
Mr Ahern said last night he wanted was to form "a stable government" for five years though he had not really turned his mind to how that would be done just yet.
"I am more worried just now about the half dozen colleagues still fighting for their seats," he said.
He said the next election would take place 'in May or June 2012' and he intended to serve on until then. But he added: "I would not run for a fourth term. I am still fit and tough."
He added, however, that he "feared for the future, not for myself but things are getting very intrusive".
Mr Ahern said he had no worries about the Mahon Tribunal which resumes work on Monday. "I will deal with it any time. It is not a problem for me."
When pressed earlier on doing a deal with Fianna Fail, Labour leader Pat Rabbitte said he would have to have regard for the national interest.
Fine Gael is on course to finish with 52 seats with Labour getting 19 or 20 seats, just short of its outgoing total of 21.
And Enda Kenny said he was still not ruling out the possibility of forming a government though that now looks an outside chance.
The Greens, with six outgoing seats, could finish with either five or six. Dan Boyle has lost in Cork South-Central but deputy leader Mary White was still in the running in Carlow-Kilkenny early today.
Sinn Fein may hold their five seats by possibly gaining in Donegal North East having lost Dublin South West TD Sean Crowe.
Independents are expected to get six seats, just under half their outgoing total. The PDs were only guaranteed to win two seats but were in the shakeup for a third.
Fianna Fail had piled up the seats during the day to thwart any chance of the Fine Gael-Labour alliance forming a government.
The final tally will determine whether Fianna Fail needs only a handful of Independents to take it over the line or whether it will have to depend on the support of either the Greens or the PDs.
While Fine Gael suffered disappointment in not getting into government, the party is set to regain most of the 23 seats it lost five years ago.
It was a disastrous election for the smaller parties, who were squeezed by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
Sinn Fein also failed to make the big breakthrough which many had expected.
It was a black day for the PDs. Along with Mr McDowell losing his seat in Dublin South-East, they also suffered setbacks in in Dublin South, (Liz O'Donnell), Dun Laoghaire, (Fiona O'Malley), Longford-Westmeath (Mae Sexton) and Laois-Offaly, (Tom Parlon).
The only definite survivors of a PD meltdown were Health Minister Mary Harney in Dublin Mid-West and Noel Grealish in Galway West. Tim O'Malley's seat in Limerick East was in the balance.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny topped the poll in Mayo, where the party was set to win three seats. He said it was a phenomenal achievement for his party to make so many gains.
Finance Minister Brian Cowen and Defence Minister Willie O'Dea were among the biggest voter getters in the country, as both polled approximately 19,000 first preferences.
Several high-profile TDs lost their seats on a day of immense drama at counts right across the country.
The biggest casualties to tumble as the Fianna Fail juggernaut rolled were Tanaiste Michael McDowell, PD deputy leader Liz O'Donnell, Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins and Sinn Fein TD Sean Crowe.
Celebrity candidates who did not make it to the 30th Dail include GAA stars John O'Leary and Graham Geraghty, musician Frank McNamara and the founder of the One in Four organisation, Colm O'Gorman.
Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness also failed in her bid to win a seat in Louth.
Fianna Fail made a series of unexpected gains.