Victory shows silent majority support FG policies – Kenny
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny claimed Helen McEntee's victory in the Meath East by-election shows a "silent majority" of people support Fine Gael's policies in Government.
Ms McEntee succeeded in taking her late father Shane's seat after three counts, having secured 9,356 – or 38.5pc – of first preference votes, slightly down from the 41pc Fine Gael took in the constituency at the last general election.
The 26-year-old took votes from all over the constituency and it was obvious she would win as soon as the first boxes were opened.
It was expected Ms McEntee would perform strongly in the north of the constituency, where her family comes from, but she also performed well in the commuter-belt territory in the south.
It also marked the first time Fine Gael has won a by-election while in government since Mr Kenny took the seat held by his late father Henry Kenny in 1975.
However, the overall turnout was very low, coming in at just under 38pc – reflecting a huge amount of voter apathy.
Mr Kenny said Ms McEntee's win proved there is a "silent majority" which backed Fine Gael in Government.
"There is a big silent majority here in Co Meath which voted for what is being put out in front of them and that's the truth, and there is no alternative to the truth and in that sense, by-elections are always worse to adjudicate on beforehand," he said.
Ms McEntee described the day as "bittersweet", telling voters in her acceptance speech: "You had faith in dad, and I'm absolutely delighted you have faith in me. We're here today because our darling Shane, dad, is not.
"It's a bitter-sweet day. A bit overwhelmed but it's been a very good day, I have all my family here and everyone is just delighted."
Ms McEntee, who worked as a parliamentary assistant for her father, becomes the youngest female TD in the current Dail – and the second youngest overall, with Wicklow FG TD Simon Harris four months younger.
Another big political winner of the by-election is Meath West Fine Gael TD Damien English, Ms McEntee's campaign director, who cemented his place as favourite to take the junior agriculture minister position held by Shane McEntee.
Mr Kenny deflected questions on the drubbing his coalition partners in Labour received, and the consequences it could have for the Government.
He pointed to Labour victories in the presidential election, and in the October 2011 Dublin West by-election – although its candidate, Patrick Nulty, lost the party whip in the Dail around a month afterwards.
"The fact of the matter is that we have had two by-elections and a presidential election in the period of this administration and the government parties have won all three," Mr Kenny said.
"In my time, there has never been a by-election that has taken place in such difficult circumstances.
"I really am proud of what Helen McEntee has achieved here, it was a stupendous performance in the face of the most difficult economic circumstances.
"This was not just a vote in respect of her late dad Shane McEntee, this is a vote for a candidate who is a formidable candidate in her own right.
"And she carried the towns of Ashbourne, Dunshaughlin and Dunboyne and Ratoath, where the McEntee name would not traditionally have much clout."
editorial comment: page 28 john downing