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Mild Mild West

Waiting for Joan: The Tánaiste hangs on to her seat

It was not supposed to happen, but it did.

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot

COLÁISTE POBAIL SETANTA sits at the very west of Dublin West.

Around one mile from the Meath-Dublin border, its sports hall was descended upon by the nation’s media yesterday for one reason only: political bloodsport.

The polls had signalled it, social media was abuzz – Joan Burton was losing her seat and people wanted to witness it happen.

In the sports hall, on top of makeshift carpet and under basketball hoops, media and observers waited for the Tánaiste.

And waited.

And waited.

Burton finally arrived nearly bang on 9pm, some 12 hours after many in the hall in the Ongar part of the constituency.

When she arrived it was because she had been informed of the good news – a pile of 1,200 transfers from the Greens’ Roderic O’Gorman and independent David McGuinness would be enough to land her the last seat.

As she walked to where her supporters had anxiously waited, she seemed relieved. Happy, obviously, but relieved.

She hugged supporters and had pictures taken, but didn’t speak to the media. That would have to wait until the count had been made.

Mild, mild west

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot

In truth, the promised spectacle turned into something of a damp squib.

Even the election of Leo Varadkar was not exactly thrilling. Vardkar arrived knowing that he was topping the tallies, but his first count saw him 140 votes away from election. In three elections, Varadkar has yet to pass a quota.

On count two, the Health Minister obviously knew he hadn’t been elected. As the media converged on him, he sat at a desk sipping a can of Diet Coke.

When he joined running-mate Catherine Noone, sitting nearby, the outgoing senator who is known for her ideas on childhood obesity joked:

“I want to put a tax on those!”

A count later, Noone’s transfers would give Varadkar the 63 votes he needed.

He called the Fine Gael result “worse than my worst nightmares”, but said he wasn’t aiming to take over the leadership just yet.

Talk already on a grand coalition, Leo said that wasn’t just the preserve of his party.

I don’t think the obligation of forming a government falls solely on Fine Gael. But today is not the day for analysis.
People will be looking for scapegoats and saviours today, but I absolutely believe (Enda Kenny should stay on).

He said the grassroots would be behind Kenny.

So, no scandal and no soundbites from Leo.

Indeed, the only drama around Leo’s election came when a supporter was hit in the head by a TV camera. Luckily Varadkar’s family, all doctors, were on hand.

Youthful exuberance, weary heads

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot

25-year-old Jack Chambers may become the new “baby” of the Dáil, after he took the third seat in the constituency. He invoked the memory of Brian Lenihan in his victory speech, shortly after being hoisted shoulder-high by supporters (despite one of his team saying that was “purely a rural thing”).

As it became clear that Sinn Féin’s Paul Donnelly couldn’t overhaul Burton or the AAA’s Ruth Coppinger, the time between counts grew. That made heads weary, reporters cranky and demand for plug sockets soar.

As media members discussed how long the next count was to take, the rotation of phone chargers pressed on, with more and more people grateful for local community station Phoenix FM’s plugboard.

Then came word that Mary Lou McDonald was on her way. The arrival of the Sinn Féin deputy leader set tongues wagging. Had Donnelly’s team seen a tally that suggested he was still in the fight? Or, unthinkably, was there to be a demand of a recount.

Instead, she was here to rally the party’s troops. Across the party lines, people spoke of the effort the Sinn Féin organisation had put in across Dublin 15 and the Navan Road. To that end, Donnelly’s supporters were crestfallen, the light sustenance from the sports hall coffee shop doing little to boost flagging spirits.

After the media had spoken to Mary Lou, who said the government had “been sacked”, she took her supporters into a circle and, away from the press, praised their work.

While many seemed to appreciate it, it will come as scant consolation for the canvassers who walked the estates of Dublin West or Donnelly, a popular local councillor who was unbackable up until Thursday.

In the end, his campaign was outflanked on the left by Coppinger’s and seemed to bank on a massive collapse in Burton’s vote which never came.

Sinn Féin also suffered from a massive lack of transfers and poor turnout. Parts of Dublin 15 where Sinn Féin is popular had turnout below 30%.

Hamlet without the Prince(ss)

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot

McDonald arrived shortly after Burton, whose absence added to a weary atmosphere once the counts started.

Her supporters seemed generally relieved, but some were annoyed that she would be scrapping for the last seat “in a constituency where she has worked so hard”.

Indeed, one was forced to ponder what a Burton concession speech would sound like, were she to arrive.

Once the transfers piled up and it became clear she would retain, her supporters were relieved, but defiant.

“We (the Labour Party) have been around 100 years, we’re not going away now,” said one.

Burton’s own tone was less vociferous when she did speak. This was not the night to celebrate a personal victory, though it was cheered loudly, because Labour had taken a hammering.

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot

A hammering that Ruth Coppinger was all too happy to underline in her speech. She said that the left wing parties needed to “fill the space left by the Labour Party”.

Afterwards, Burton spoke to the media and attempted to explain the party’s achievements in government, but tonight was really just about survival.

Both for Joan and the party.

Read: Joan Burton survives: Labour leader keeps seat in Dublin West battle

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