McEntee engulfed in swirl of emotion as Rabbitte is lost for words

Helen McEntee fought back tears as she entered the count centre to claim a Dáil seat left vacant by the father she buried just 12 weeks ago.

Flanked by her mother Kathleen on one side, and her father Shane’s close friend Enda Kenny on the other, Ms McEntee paused to compose herself before becoming engulfed in a swirl of emotion as a throng of supporters swept her up on to the winner’s podium.

The shadow of her father fell heavy across the hall as Ms McEntee remembered him in an emotional address that spoke much more of grieving family pride than petty party vanity.

“We are here today because my darling Shane, Dad, is not. It is a bitter sweet day. He was an amazing person, TD, and minister — if I am half the TD he was, I’ll be happy.”

It was a poignant beginning to her political career and a fitting tribute to mark the end of her father’s.

But politics is a messy, unsentimental business, as Ms McEntee will quickly learn, and Pat Rabbitte already knows far too well.

From early morning poor Pat was wandering around the count centre like a plane crash survivor stumbling amid the wreckage.

Labour had braced itself for a bumpy landing, but nobody expected it to smash into the humiliation of fifth place.

For once rapid-fire Rabbitte seemed almost lost for words — and the few he could muster did not make much sense, as when at one point he rambled: “Falling bond yields butter few parsnips.”

Maundy Thursday was threatening to turn into the Long Good Friday forEamon Gilmore as, just like Bob Hoskins in the iconic British gangster film, his turf was suddenly under threat, and it looked like he would be in for a bloody battle to hold his grip on power.

Whispers of regime change swelled into a chorus of disapproval as the first tallies were tipped open on to the trestle tables and revealed the day of disaster that lay ahead for Labour.

The McEntee name had certainly helped shore up Fine Gael support, but the party also did well in the commuter belt south of the constituency where the family brand traditionally has little influence, so it was clear that Labour was taking the blame for the policies of the Slump Coalition — and its vote collapsed accordingly.

But as the crushing nature of his defeat dawned, Labour’s candidate Eoin Holmes showed why the party had chosen him to run — because he was sure good at running out of the count centre when the media moved in for a comment.

Insisting he had just popped in to thank his campaign team, Mr Holmes nearly set a Meath East indoor exit record as he (Usain) Bolted for the door.

If only the Labour campaign had shown that kind of energy on the doorsteps the party might not have ended up in such an embarrassing position.

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