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Labour hits rock bottom and the second-shortest serving TD ever: 6 election records made this year

The records behind the rise of Sinn Féin during the election tell their own story.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

THE VOTES HAVE been counted, the seats have been filled and the dust has finally settled. Another election is finally over.

Plenty of headlines have been written about the huge gains made by Sinn Féin and the continued decline of Ireland’s two main parties.

But behind those stories, several records were also broken which all tell their own tale about the massive change that has occurred as a result of the election.

Here’s six of them.

1. The highest poll-topper

As we explained in an earlier piece, the fact that the nine highest first-preference votes in the country went to Sinn Féin was reflective of how well the party might have performed if it had run more than 42 candidates.

Nevertheless, it meant that Denise Mitchell won the country’s biggest first-preference share in Dublin Bay North with an incredible 21,344 votes – 9,409 votes over the quota.

That stands as one of the highest numbers of first preferences in the history of the State, comparable to Richard Mulcahy’s general election record of 22,205 votes in Dublin North in 1923.

2. First Taoiseach in second

Sinn Féin also pulled off a coup by beating Leo Varadkar to first in his own constituency of Dublin West, with the party’s Paul Donnelly elected at the first count.

No outgoing Taoiseach has ever failed to top the poll in their home constituency during a subsequent general election, but Donnelly took a staggering 12,456 votes in first, with the Taoiseach well behind him on 8,478.

Éamon de Valera is the only previous Taoiseach who took the second seat in a constituency in a subsequent election, and that was because Ceann Comhairle Patrick Hogan was automatically returned in Clare in 1954.

To make matters worse for Varadkar, the last time a Taoiseach failed to get his running mate elected was in 1987.

3. The big three

Many commentators have pointed to the election result as perhaps the beginning of a dominant three-party system in Irish politics.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael continued their downward share of the vote in recent years, dropping from 49.8% of first preferences to just 43.1% this time around.

Fine Gael’s 35 seats is the party’s fourth-worst performance ever, behind only 1943 (when it won 32 seats), 2002 and 1948 (31 seats) and 1944 (30 seats).

Likewise, Fianna Fáil’s 38 seats is its second-worst performance ever. It ranks behind 2011, when the party was almost wiped out and won just 20 seats.

And although we’ve seen the rise of third parties before (Labour in 1992 for example), Sinn Féin’s vote share is the first time any party has out-polled the big two.

What’s more, its 24.5% share is the highest vote ever achieved by a third party, over 5% above Labour’s 19.4% in 2011.

4. Changing of the guard

Perhaps what illustrates this new type of politics more than anything is the fact nearly a third of Ireland’s 39 constituencies elected Sinn Féin TDs for the first time since the party took its modern form in 1970.

Voters in Clare, Dublin Bay South, Dublin West, Galway West, Kildare North, Kildare South, Laois-Offaly, Longford-Westmeath, Mayo, Meath East, Roscommon-Galway, Tipperary and Wexford will all be represented by the party for the first time in the 33rd Dáil.

While some of these constituencies are relatively new, parts of the country they cover have never had a Sinn Féin TD at all, going back to the civil war.

On the other side, some constituencies will not be represented by one or both of the big two for the first time in generations.

Fine Gael failed to be elected in the new-ish Dublin North-West and Roscommon-Galway, Cork South-West or Waterford for the first time, the latter a run that stretches back to the foundation of the State (excluding the 1952 and 1966 by-elections).

Meanwhile, it is only the third time since 1923 that no Fianna Fáil TD will sit in Louth, while Dublin South-Central will not be represented by either party for the first time ever, in what is seen as a changing of the guard.

5. Labour’s demise

With an unofficial transfer pact in place among parties on the left, Labour could and probably should have improved upon its showing in 2017, when it won just 7 seats.

Instead, the party had its worst-ever general election result, winning just six seats – half that of the Green Party and the same as the Social Democrats, who appear to be hoovering up the party’s vote with younger candidates.

It appears as if the party is still suffering for its performance as a junior coalition partner in 2011, and it certainly didn’t help itself by placing old faces – including Joan Burton and Joe Costello – at the front of its campaign.

A fresh leadership contest beckons.

6. The second-shortest serving TD ever

Spare a thought for Malcolm Byrne. The Fianna Fáil TD won a seat to the Dáil for the first time in the Wexford by-election on 29 November last year.

By yesterday evening, he was out again, usurped by Johnny Mythen, Brendan Howlin, Verona Murphy, party colleague James Browne, and Paul Kehoe.

His 71-day tenure makes him the second-shortest serving TD ever, after Anti-H-Block TD Kieran Doherty, who died on hunger strike in August 1981, just 52 days after his election.

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