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'Humble' FG young guns reveal they're just a new FF

THERE is something slightly unsettling about seeing Fine Gael's young Paschal Donohue's triumphant arrival here at the RDS shortly before two o'clock.

Paschal is clearly wary of looking too triumphant about the fact that he will be elected, topping the poll in Dublin Central and he stresses in answer to any question how "humbled" he is -- whatever that strange new word usage, brought into vogue mainly by Hollywood and Mary McAleese, means.

Paschal uses the word three times in as many minutes (Later, I notice another new FG TD, Martin Heydon, talk about being humbled later -- maybe they teach it in charm school).

And for a minute, you begin to think that Paschal may not even get up on anyone's shoulders. But then, with a sense of inevitability, with Paschal looking sheepishly resigned to his fate, he is hauled onto the shoulders and the hip, hip, hooraying starts.

Things may be changing forever but some things remain the same. And while a new subtribe of the tribe may be taking over for a while, be assured that the tribe is still in charge.

Paschal is a potent symbol at the Dublin city count centre. In a day when people from across all hues, who have been cut out of the action for years now, are finally feeling their day has come, Paschal symbolises it all perfectly, the cleancut young Blueshirt who, on his third attempt at a Dail seat, is topping the poll in Bertie's backyard, getting Fine Gael's first seat in Dublin Central since Jim Mitchell, while Fianna Fail struggles to get any seat in the whole of Dublin.

A couple of hours later when Lucinda Creighton arrives it's slightly unsettling too. Lucinda has a regal air about her as she modestly takes the plaudits for her and Eoghan Murphy taking home the first two seats in Dublin South East (There has been no official announcement, even about a first count, anywhere in Dublin city at this point but at the RDS it seems to be all over bar the technicality of counting the votes.

Another candidate will tell me a few minutes later that he is slugging it out for the final seat in his constituency, even though he's been told he has it on paper. This is before the first count is announced.

Then Lucinda praises Enda Kenny to the skies with a fixed smile on her face and assures us the events of last year (the very vicious FG split that saw Lucinda and Enda at each other's throats) are all in the past now and so on.

And then she puts on a serious face to talk about how this is only the first step and now, there are challenges ahead. And you can't help feeling that truly Fine Gael is actually the new Fianna Fail

There is a sense of giddiness here today. But it is not about the future. Not yet. The future begins next week. Today it is about the craic and the drama and the tea and the sandwiches and the fellahs on shoulders. If an alien landed here in the RDS he would wonder at the people to whom we entrust our future. As much as they are all of different colours they are all of a type. They are the kind of people who live to be hanging around at election counts. They love the process. They actually find it sexy to be here, close to a whiff of politics. The funny thing is that the members of today's winning parties, when you talk to them quietly, don't seem to feel like winners. Fine Gaelers are either miffed that the party didn't push harder to get an overall majority or else glad of the Labour coalition because they don't trust their own leadership on its own.

Labour people at the RDS also seem to have mixed feelings about their imminent victory in Dublin and their performance throughout the country. There is a sense of trepidation about the idea of going into government right now.

There is a sharp recognition that a new Government will get no thanks, whatever they do.

The honeymoon will be short. People have voted for change but how much can a new government really change? There is a huge school of thought in Labour that they perhaps shouldn't go into another right-of-centre Government, but everyone recognises that the age profile of the Labour frontbench means that they will seize this day, as it could be their last chance.

Fianna Failers are properly despondent. They weren't expecting much, but still, the cold hard numbers on the tally sheets have to hurt. Support for the party has gone from the high 40s in some constituencies in 2007, to the low teens today. As one party worker ruefully puts it, you could probably knock a point off FF support for every percentage drop in the value of people's houses.

They are rueful, but resigned to it now. Now they are focussing on the details of the hurt, the fact that so many of their voters went right across the floor to Fine Gael. But of course that was going to happen

Overall there is a subdued shock here today across all parties. Whatever party they are from, these people are more similar than they are different.

They are all members of the same club ultimately, and as much as this is a good day for many of them, it is a bad day for their brethren in other parties, with household names, people who gave their lives to the real tribe, the overall tribe that is politics, falling into ignominy and oblivion by the hour.

And there but for the grace go they. So it's a happy day in ways, but an unsettling one too. Because there is a sense today that it is not just Fianna Fail that is being wiped out, but politics as we know it in this country. And that casts a chilly shadow over them all, even today's ostensible victors.

As the long day goes on, a weariness rather than an excitement sets in. People hang around waiting for official confirmation of the inevitable. The Fianna Failers who used to be the kings of these shows are a despondent lot. And despite the fact that it was expected, they seem flattened by the extent of the humiliation. In a way, they are still the big story of the day.

By eight o'clock, with word trickling through that Barry Andrews out in Dun Laoghaire, is the latest FF former front bencher to fall,

Bertie is nowhere to be seen at the Dublin Central count, which seems to have been stalled by some missing votes, but there is the odd former mafia member around and Anna Bogel is around flitting between the bar, which is now opened and doing well, and the count centre.

Questions are starting to be asked about what happens to St Luke's now. Sean Haughey was around for a while, looking diminished.

All in all though, the humiliation of Fianna Fail, that we've all been looking forward to for so long, doesn't seem as exciting now that it was happening.

There is almost something pathetic about the end of the party that was thought to be hardwired into our DNA. For some reason there seems to be little joy in it.

Sunday Independent