Labour on course for victory despite recount bid
Fianna Fail candidate performs surprisingly strongly while it all goes wrong for Fine Gael
LABOUR contender Pat Nulty was on course to take the seat in the Dubin West by-election last night despite a recount of the votes of the final four candidates.
The bookies' favourite and polltopper was well on his way to bucking a 29-year trend by being the first government party candidate to win a by-election since Fianna Fail's Noel Treacy won in the Galway East by-election in 1982.
But the bubbly had to be put on ice after Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins sprung a surprise by calling for a full recount after his party's candidate, schoolteacher Ruth Coppinger, had been eliminated on the fourth count.
At that stage, Mr Nulty was just one of four left in the original 13-candidate race and was well ahead on 13,000 votes, just 4,000 shy of the quota.
Surprise contender, Fianna Fail councillor David McGuinness was in second place on 9,865 votes, a mere 18 ahead of Ms Coppinger.
In stepped her election agent Joe Higgins after returning officer John Fitzpatrick announced that Ms Coppinger was being eliminated and her votes were to be distributed among the remaining two candidates -- Mr Nulty and Mr McGuinness.
"There are only 18 votes between the Socialist Party and Fianna Fail and in fairness to Ruth Coppinger, and in particular to the electorate of Dublin West, I am requesting a full recount," he said to a mixture boos and cheers from the crowd at the Citywest count centre.
Ms Coppinger was refusing to concede that the result in Labour's favour was a foregone conclusion.
Earlier, the contest had seemed all but over and Mr Nulty's victory never seemed in doubt with supporters even phoning up the candidate to congratulate him on his performance hours before a first count result was declared.
Tanaiste and Labour Leader Eamon Gilmore had described the result as "hugely significant" and said he wouldn't quibble over the fact that the party's share of the vote had dropped since the general election.
Before the recount call, Mr Nulty, a Focus Ireland worker, who opposed Labour's entry into coalition, had topped the poll with 8,665 first preference votes -- just ahead of second-placed candidate Mr McGuinness, who garnered 7,742 first preferences.
"This seat doesn't belong to any individual or party, it belongs to the people of Dublin West," he said.
Ms Coppinger also polled well, collecting 7,542 first preferences and commenting that the Fine Gael vote in the constituency had "imploded".
By the second count the field of 13 candidates had already been whittled down to just four as the Green Party, Sinn Fein and seven Independents all fell by the wayside.
A jubilant Mr McGuinness -- who was feted by his supporters as if he had won the seat -- put in a tremendous performance. In his last outing in the February general election he only managed to pick up 623 first preference votes. "We are blown away by our performance," Mr McGuinness said.
But the figures painted a grim picture for Fine Gael whose candidate Eithne Loftus trailed in behind the other contenders with just 5,263 first preferences.
The party chose her to stand in the by-election instead of her colleague Kieran Dennison who had contested the general election in February.
She was eliminated on the third count after picking up a paltry 681 transfers from other candidates.
The party's poor performance in taking just under a 15pc share of the vote was in stark contrast to its general election showing of 27pc.
Fine Gael director of elections, Minister of State Brian Hayes, said it was a disappointing result for the party and it would now need to discover what had gone wrong.