Sunday 25 February 2018

Labour Party’s red letter day: a President and a TD

Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina and sons Michael Jnr and Daniel in Galway
Mary Davis arrives in her famous red dress to cast her vote with daughters Emma and Rebecca
Presedential candidate, Sean Gallagher leaves the polling station with his wife Trish at St. Oliver Plunkett National School, Blackrock, Co Louth after casting their vote. Photo: Collins
David Norris on his way to the polling station in Dublin reporters and Ed Carty

THE LABOUR Party looks set for a clean sweep today with Patrick Nulty topping the poll after the first count in the Dublin West by-election and veteran Michael D Higgins on course to be named Ireland's ninth president.

Mr Higgin’s closest rival Independent Sean Gallagher has conceded defeat and thanked the Labour candidate for his positive campaign.

In the first by-election count at Dublin West, Mr Nulty had 8,665 votes, or 25pc, followed by Fianna Fail’s David McGuinness on 22pc with 7,742 followed by Fine Gael’s Eithne Loftus with 5,263 votes.

While Mr McGuinness polled well, it is unlikely that he will be as transfer-friendly as Mr Nulty.

No candidate reached the quota of 17,852 in the by-election prompted by the death of former Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan.

Tally reports from count centres around the country put presidential candidate Mr Higgins up around the 40pc mark with Mr Gallagher closer to 25pc.

They also indicate that the 70-year-old secured a huge bounce in support nationwide in the final days of the campaign.

After the fourth count in Dublin West, Mr Higgins had 43.2pc of the vote, Independent Sean Gallagher 24.1pc and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness was on 11.9pc.

Mr Higgins, who had been trailing in second place in the opinion polls, has made massive gains in the wake of huge controversy over his closest rival, Mr Gallagher.

Senator David Norris, another independent, was the first of the seven candidates to offer congratulations to the Labour man.

"I'm quite certain the next president will be Michael D Higgins and I'd like to send my love and congratulations to Michael D, to Sabina and the rest of the family," he said.

"It must be a very, very happy day for them and I also think it's a good day for Ireland because, although he is a Labour Party member, Michael D, like myself, is a little bit of a maverick and when you have such a concentration of power in the hands of the coalition I think it's good to have somebody who will be in a position morally and intellectually to speak out on behalf of the marginalised.

"I know that Michael D will do that.

"So I'll be very happy to be an Irish man under the presidency of Michael D Higgins."

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said it was a very good day for the Labour party and congratulated Michael D.

“I’m really happy for him, delighted he has succeeded. He ran a very positive campaign and people responded.”

One of the Government’s two referendums on judge’s pay looked set to be passed today but the increase of powers for the Oireachtas did not look so certain, according to tallies. Counting will not begin until tomorrow.

The Presidential field was headed at the start of the week by opinion poll- topper Mr Gallagher who hit 40pc of the vote before he was dogged in the final campaign days by controversy over his political fundraising past and financial transactions in his businesses.

Mr Higgins was running second with commentators suggesting he will benefit from questions over Mr Gallagher's political background.

Neighbours of Mr Gallagher also came out to support Mr Higgins, tallies showed today.

Voters in Blackrock, Co Louth, where Mr Gallagher lives, are giving Mr Higgins the thumbs up.

Early figures from the area show the Labour candidate at 35pc, Mr Gallagher at 29pc and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness at 21pc but David Norris was also polling well.

One box opened in the town had Mr Higgins outvoting Mr Gallagher by 2-1.

In some places Mr Gallagher was polling well with Co Donegal standing out while parts of Offaly are also in his favour.

It was not looking good for the country’s biggest political party Fine Gael with candidate Gay Mitchell performing badly amid allegations that grassroots were not behind him.

The other also-rans look likely to be Mary Davis, who headed the Irish division of Special Olympics, and Dana Rosemary Scallon, former Eurovision winner and Eurosceptic MEP.

The turnout was well below the high 70pc seen at the February general election.

The results from the first counts in the 43 constituencies are expected early in the evening or, depending on the official turnout, later tonight.

While a formal declaration by the Presidential Returning Officer may not come through until Saturday, the final outcome expected to be known late tonight.

About 3.1 million people were eligible to vote in the single transferable vote system, where the successful candidate needs 50pc of the vote plus one.

The electorate was also being asked to vote on two referendums to make alterations to the Irish constitution.

One was on a proposal to beef up the powers of parliamentary committees in holding inquiries into matters of public interest, while the other would allow the Government to reduce the pay of judges.

Ireland's ninth president follows the respected two terms, totaling 14 years, of Mary McAleese. She leaves office on November 10 after a remarkable tenure marked by her "Building Bridges" theme and work on the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The president's residence, Aras an Uachtarain was also opened to more guests and visitors than ever before.

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