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Saturday 23 September 2023 Dublin: 12°C
# a weekend in mayo
'Up Fianna Fáil, we're back!': How the party reclaimed 'Fine Gael country'
The recovery that happened wasn’t the one Fine Gael had in mind.

“IF HE THINKS he’s having a bad day today, wait for the next few weeks.”

That was a constituent’s view of what’s ahead for Enda Kenny after a poor showing for Fine Gael in the election.

The Taoiseach didn’t arrive at the Mayo count centre in Castlebar (his home turf) until after 8.30pm last night.

The first count was delayed by a couple of hours and word on the ground was Kenny wanted to be speaking to the media while the first count was called.

Screenshot 2016-02-28 at 16.59.36 Órla Ryan / Órla Ryan / /

He knew he’d be re-elected and, as one onlooker put it – given how bad a day for Fine Gael it had been – if he was pictured being lifted onto cheering people’s shoulders, “the optics wouldn’t look good”.

Despite the day’s events, Kenny seemed to be in a relatively good mood – helping rearrange journalists in the media scrum that awaited him. He was disappointed but had his game face on.

Kenny told reporters he had sympathy for the Fine Gael TDs who would lose their seats. He was philosophical, musing: “Democracy is always exciting but it is merciless when it kicks in.”

Kenny said it was “far too early” to talk about coalitions, despite the very loud Fianna Fáil-shaped elephant in the room.

When asked if he would reconsider his position as leader of Fine Gael, he didn’t directly answer, instead saying: “My position as Taoiseach and head of government, I have a duty and a responsibility to work with the decision that the people have made to provide the country with a stable government.”

Kenny’s long-time running mate Michael Ring was re-elected today – on the 9th count.

Ring, in quite the understatement, yesterday acknowledged: “It’s not the best day we’ve had.”

It was a difficult campaign. We hurt a lot of people along the way. We took very, very difficult decisions in government, and I have to say that that probably had an effect on it. It was never going to be easy.

The long-standing TD was among those who had wanted the election to take place in November, but said this was a moot point now.

“We are where we are. The people have spoken and we have to listen to the people.”

In terms of what shape a new coalition might take, Ring had this input:

Nobody knows, you’d have to be a magician to know what’s going to happen.

“I don’t know whether we can get a government or not, but I don’t think the people want another election, but so be it if it has to be, but I hope not.” 

Many had predicted it would go down to the wire between Fine Gael’s Michelle Mulherin and Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers for the fourth seat, and a recount looked likely at one stage.

But, in the end, Chambers easily won out – with over 2,000 votes between them  (11,686 to 9,593). The closest rival after this was Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway-Walsh, who was eliminated on 7,853 votes in the 9th count.

Chambers (29) was elected to Mayo County Council less than two years ago. Shortly before she got the good news today one of her supporters remarked: “She’s about the same age Enda Kenny was when he started out.” (He was 24 years old when first elected to the Dáil in 1975.)

When Chambers and her running mate Dara Calleary were elected on the 10th and final count, a supporter gleefully shouted: “Up Fianna Fáil, we’re back!” as the pair were lifted onto very willing shoulders.

The writing appeared to be on the wall for Mulherin this morning, when Fine Gael’s local director of elections Brendan O’Dowd had this to say about Mulherin’s chances: It’s a very, very long shot. All the gods are with Lisa Chambers.”

The was one major recovery yesterday, but it wasn’t the one Fine Gael had constantly mentioned during the election campaign.

Speaking to today, Calleary said Micheál Martin “took this party five years ago at its darkest days and put it back on a path to recovery”.

A week is a long time in politics so perhaps five years in the wilderness of the opposition benches was enough punishment for Fianna Fáil.

Indeed, Kenny said people who would have been “ashamed” to vote for Martin’s party in 2011 came out in force on Friday.

Fianna Fáil was in buoyant mood this afternoon, with an impromptu singalong breaking out BEFORE Calleary and Chambers got the nod.

‘This is Fine Gael country’

“This is Fine Gael country,” one party supporter remarked on Saturday evening. He’s not wrong, to be fair.

The party secured four TDs here in 2011 (when it was a five-seater): Kenny, Ring, Mulherin and John O’Mahony – who failed to be elected in Galway West this time around.

Kenny has been a TD here for just over 40 years, following in the footsteps of his late father Henry, and Ring was first elected in a 1994 by-election.

Another election?

More than one person in the count centre has suggested that there’ll be another election this year or next.

A trio of people wearing Enda Kenny stickers said a Fine Gael Fianna Fáil coalition might not be the worst scenario.

“The day Sinn Féin and independents get enough seats to form a government, that’s when you’d have trouble,” one woman stated. Her companions nodded.

The ‘chaos versus stability’ argument the outgoing government put forward might not have held up nationally, but it wasn’t lost on everyone.

Meanwhile, a decades-long supporter of Fianna Fáil expressed her delight at the party’s comeback. In terms of joining forces with Fine Gael, she told us: “Can you imagine? I never thought I’d see the day.”

Read: THE WINNERS: Here are all the TDs who have been elected so far

Read: Re-elected Enda Kenny: “Democracy is always exciting – but merciless”

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