Saturday 23 February 2019

Lise Hand: Our uprising brought down FF with Pencil Revolution

Fine Gael TDs John O'Mahony, Michelle Mulherin, Enda Kenny and Michael Ring hold up four fingers at the count centre in Castlebar to show the party's immense achievement in capturing four of the five seats in Mayo
Fine Gael TDs John O'Mahony, Michelle Mulherin, Enda Kenny and Michael Ring hold up four fingers at the count centre in Castlebar to show the party's immense achievement in capturing four of the five seats in Mayo

Lise Hand

On RTE, John Bowman concluded, 'Long may we choose power in Ireland with a ballot paper in one hand and a pencil in the other'

THEY left their houses in their hundreds of thousands, in the sun and in the rain. They travelled from the Inishowen peninsula, the Wicklow hills; they journeyed along winding roads in Skibbereen, Emyvale, Ballyheigue, Banagher, and down the broad streets of Cork city and the narrow ones of Wexford town. They made their way through the capital's sprawling suburbs from Rathfarnham to Dun Laoghaire to Drumcondra and Ballyfermot.

They poured into 6,000 polling stations across the country, simmering and seething, racked with rage, gripped by heartache and hellbent on revenge.

They'd waited months and months for this day as they watched shops in their towns and villages boarded up, dole queues lengthen and their children leave.

They'd bided their time after Anglo imploded and took the economy with it, and when the men from the IMF took away our sovereignty one snowy winter's night.

They didn't light fires or storm parliament or do bloody battle on the streets.

Instead, armed with that humble little weapon so sneeringly dismissed by a former Taoiseach as "our stupid oul' pencils", they rained down vengeance on the Government.

With over 2.2 million strokes and ticks and marks they struck down the mighty party of power, stabbing into its heart over and over to ensure it didn't rise again. As the tempests of change howl and swirl across the Middle East, we too held our own uprising on Friday, February 25, when we unleashed our Pencil Revolution.

And what a dramatic, heart-stopping new picture all those pencils have created, redrawing the map of Irish politics, perhaps forever.

The six Green Party deputies were scribbled out completely, but almost all the vanquished in this revolution belong to the ranks of Fianna Fail which suffered its worst electoral defeat in the history of the party.

There was a sense of disbelief over the scale of the massacre, as backbencher after junior minister after senior minister were toppled, leaving a shell-shocked party scrambling to reach 20 seats and struggling to understand their lowly place in the new scheme of things.

"It was like Fianna Fail was hit by a tsunami," mourned former minister Batt O'Keeffe in the aftermath.

But the wave hasn't just swept Fianna Fail away -- it has also carried into the 31st Dail resurgent parties Fine Gael and Labour and Sinn Fein and a bubbling swell of Independents.

In the RDS, Dublin, on Saturday, home to six constituency counts, there was a dizzying sense of momentous events unfolding as the long day progressed into late evening.

The tide took out Mary Coughlan, Mary Hanafin, Barry Andrews, Conor Lenihan -- and almost claimed his brother Brian Lenihan, too.

The annihilated Greens turned up en masse and teary-eyed outside the count centre and vowed to fight on.

"It's a sad day for the party. We have suffered a major defeat but will regroup," declared John Gormley though he bore the expression of a man still trying to pick himself off the floor.

And in came a deluge of newcomers. At one count declaration for Dublin North-Central, first-time Labour candidate Aodhan O Riordain listened tensely. He was within a few votes of claiming a considerable scalp -- that of Fianna Fail princeling Sean Haughey.

"What happens now?" he asked a colleague.

It was a good question. Little was certain while the kaleidoscope of candidates continued to shift, but one thing was certain -- Enda Kenny was the Taoiseach-elect, either with the support of Independents, or in coalition with Labour.

All eyes were on Enda. Only nine years ago it was Fine Gael which was in tatters after taking an electoral battering, and it was only eight months ago since a leadership heave against him almost tore his party asunder.

Almost incredibly he had survived and now, 36 years after entering Dail Eireann as a TD, the Mayoman was surfing to victory. The West was awake and in wonderment. The Western foot-soldiers of the Pencil Revolution had marched in huge numbers and in Mayo it looked as if Fine Gael were poised to do what no other political party had ever achieved, by electing four deputies in a five-seater.

In late afternoon Enda arrived at the count centre in his hometown of Castlebar and plunged into a tumult of emotion and a scrum of photographers and TV cameras.

But he couldn't stay long enough to hear that sweetest of moments for any candidate -- the declaration that he had been elected to the 31st Dail on the first count and had sailed to the top of the national poll with 17,472 votes.

For at that moment Enda was air-bound to Dublin. Sweet though his victory might be, there isn't any time to stop and savour it. Not while the country is still deep in the iron fist of recession and economic turmoil.

There's a government to form, a deal to be struck with Labour, a crucial crunch EU summit to prepare for, a wounded populace to reassure. And so just before 10pm on Saturday, the Taoiseach-elect arrived in the Burlington Hotel to address a crowd of party supporters.

There were no trumpets and only a few balloons. There was loud cheering but the chandeliers remained untouched and the roof intact.

Engulfed by the inevitable posse of frantic photographers Enda slowly made his way to the stage and waited for the cheers to subside.

"We now stand at a transformative moment in Ireland's history. We stand on the brink of fundamental change -- change that will require a gigantic leap of faith in a time when the idea of hope, even the idea of future itself, are being tested," he told the room.

At times Enda sounded a bit awkward, particularly using grandiloquent phrases such as "let the word go forth", but then surely the momentousness of this extraordinary election was only beginning to sink in.

Particularly when a genuine hand of history had landed on his shoulder just hours before, when he had received a call from former Fine Gael Taoiseach, 91-year-old Liam Cosgrave. "He said to me, 'I'm an old man, but you made me proud'," revealed Enda.

What a lot Enda has to live up to, borne aloft into high office on a hopeful powerful wave of strokes and ticks and marks.

Wrapping up RTE's election coverage yesterday afternoon, John Bowman concluded, "Long may we choose power in Ireland with a ballot paper in one hand and a pencil in the other."

The people have played their part. Now, Enda and Eamon, it's over to you.

The nuts and bolts of a deal: Ivan Yates, page 28

Irish Independent

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