ELECTION 2011 will be remembered as the one that triggered the most seismic shifts in the Irish political status quo.
Fianna Fáil’s unbroken chain as the largest party in the Dáil finally came to an end, and other parties dramatically expanded their representation to dramatic new heights.
There have been highs and lows for each party around the country: this is where things went well for each party – or where things went dramatically wrong.
Where to start? Dublin and the commuter belt is where the Fianna Fáil support collapsed. It is said that the party which holds the capital holds the country – and Fianna Fáil’s representation in the greater Dublin area collapsed. They ended up with just one seat in Dublin, that of former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.
Before: Two in Dublin Central, one in Mid West, two in North, one in North Central, one in North East, two in North West, two in South, two in South Central, one in South East, two in South West, one in West, and two in Dún Laoghaire
After: just one seat in Dublin West – the aforementioned Brian Lenihan’s.
The commuter belt was no better: just one of four hung on in Kildare, all four seats in Meath were lost, and both in Wicklow were lost to opposition.
Add in a collapse of similar proportion in the rest of the country – the likes of Carlow-Kilkenny, where three seats became just one – and a party that won 77 seats last time will bring home only a quarter of that total in 2011.
Two tiny positives: first-time candidates Charlie McConalogue (councillor since 2009) in Donegal North East, and Robert Troy (councillor since 2004) went in on his first try in Longford-Westmeath. Both made it into the next Dáil, potentially laying the seeds for the next generation.
Enda Kenny’s party were the big winners from Fianna Fáil’s collapse, sweeping up almost two thirds of the share lost by the latter.
Before: The party held 10 of the seats in Dublin before this week.
After: It now holds 17 in the capital, including three in the five-seater Dublin South.
But the more rural areas have been kind too: the party will grow from one to three in Carlow-Kilkenny, one to three in Cavan-Monaghan, and see most of the constituencies with sole representatives be joined by party colleagues.
The most obvious illustration of the party’s unquestioned dominance is in Mayo: Twenty years ago, Fianna Fáil held four of the six seats between Mayos East and West. Since the two three-seaters became a single five, and Enda Kenny became the country’s longest-standing TD, the parties were somewhat matched.
In 2007, the Fine Gael grip returned with three of the five: now, the party claims four of the five seats – a proportion of the vote simply unparalleled in modern Irish history, securing almost two-thirds of the first preference votes in Mayo.
Before: Over the last decade, Labour supporters have long spoken of a return to the era of the Spring Tide, Labour’s remarkable performance of 1992 when its share increased from 15 seats (of 166) to 33.
After: The Spring Tide has now been superseded by a new performance to live long in the minds of those flying red flags: the Gilmore Gale of 2011 will see the party’s share of 20 increase to 37 by best guesses.
It’s a case not only of new breakthroughs, but consolidating old powers: the retiring Mary Upton’s solid seat became two in Dublin South Central; Ruairí Quinn’s share in Dublin South East allowed Kevin Humphreys to join him in Dáil 31; Pat Rabbitte took home Eamonn Maloney in Dublin South West.
But it’s also been a case of regaining seats not held for some time: Seamus Pattison’s old solid seat in Carlow-Kilkenny is regained by Ann Phelan, Dick Spring’s old spot in Kerry North is annexed by his nephew Arthur, and Michael Bell’s old seat in Louth is won by longtime councillor Ged Nash.
The day will be tinged with a pinch of disappointment – Gilmore himself was just unable to bring home running mate Ivana Bacik in the hyper-competitive Dún Laoghaire – but such agonies will easily be overlooked on a fantastic weekend for Labour supporters.
Before: Losses were always likely but the Greens had hoped that Trevor Sargent – the most longstanding of its outgoing TDs – would have been able to hang on, or chairman senator Dan Boyle’s national profile might have helped to win appeal in Cork South Central.
After: Media darling Paul Gogarty was the first outgoing TD nationwide to concede his seat, giving up in Dublin Mid West even before 10am, and when leader John Gormley was outpolled by six others in four-seat Dublin South East – including newcomers Eoghan Murphy (FG), Kevin Humphreys (Labour) and independent Paul Sommerville the game was up.
In the 21st century environmental concerns will always be present, so the Greens will always see a role for themselves – but finding a way to keep a share of the public’s attention with nobody in the Oireachtas, and only 13 councillors nationwide, will be a daunting prospect.
Sinn Féin’s prospects for growth were always obvious but the forecasts for the exact areas where seats could be gained were moderate.
Before: Previously the party had seats only in the NI border regions and occasional seats in Dublin and the South – but its representation is more widely spread now.
After: Mary Lou McDonald was expected to gain in Dublin Central, and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn was likely to win in Donegal North East, but it was considered a Good Day if the likes of Dessie Ellis was able to make it home in Dublin North West, or Sandra McLellan in Cork East – yet both did.
Its single seat in Dublin (Aengus Ó Snodaigh) became four, while the party gained in areas it never has previously: McLellan in Cork, or the likes of Navan councillor Peader Toibín gaining a seat where none has existed in living memory.
The Adams factor - the transformation of Gerry Adams from almost mythical status on this side of the border, to a southern politician with whom many saw common ground, also saw the party win transfers where it previously had struggled.
It will say much that the Sinn Féin grouping in the next Dáil will be almost the same size as Fianna Fáil’s, despite getting only just over half of the latter’s share. The era of Sinn Féin’s transfer toxicity is over.
United Left Alliance
Before: The consistent appeal of Socialist Party veteran Joe Higgins MEP was considered almost certain to see him return in the expanded Dublin West, while People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett had been expected to make inroads at the expense of FF duo Hanafin and Barry Andrews in Dún Laoghaire.
After: It was considered a slightly less certain prospect that Socialist Clare Daly – desperately close last time in Dublin North – would make the breakthrough, or that PBP’s Joan Collins would be able to make it home in Dublin South Central when both FG and Labour were running three. They both made it.
Adding the former Tipperary South favourite Seamus Healy to the pair means the alliance can – crucially – claim support beyond the capital, and attention will now turn to finding two like-minded independents – Finian McGrath and Maureen O’Sullivan being likely partners – to cobble together a technical group in the Dáil.
The sheer number of independents running this time around was a testament of how many felt disillusioned with the parties on offer. But while there were only a certain number who could hold out realistic hopes, the presence of so many standalone voices will be a hallmark of the next Dáil.
The obvious standout candidates – the likes of Shane Ross in Dublin South, Mick Wallace in Wexford and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan in Roscommon-South Leitrim – made it home, alongside regulars Michael Lowry, Michael ‘son of Jackie’ Healy-Rae, Maureen O’Sullivan and Finian McGrath, while former government supporters Noel Grealish and Mattie McGrath looked to be safe too.
It will be the victory of Thomas Pringle in Donegal South-West – a former SF man, emerging in spite of Pearse Doherty’s success to beat out sitting Tánaiste Mary Coughlan – and Catherine Murphy in Kildare North, regaining the seat she had lost in 2007 – that show the prospects for independent ‘outsider’ voices in the current economic climate, though.
The fact that Wicklow’s Stephen Donnelly currently (recounts from earlier stages pending) stands a major chance in a race with two Fianna Fáil, three Fine Gael, three Labour and one Sinn Féin candidate also proves the public appetite for new voices.