The week that was: tallies, tussles and the fall of the old guard

SHORTLY after dawn last Saturday, the fate of fistfuls of flutters and fancies dangled as if the gates were just snapping open at the Curragh.

Votes had been cast, the favourites were installed and the hopes of hundreds of long shots rested on the secrets contained in closely-guarded ballot boxes.

The biggest prize in Irish public life stood in front of 566 contestants. Just one was guaranteed a place in the winners’ enclosure — Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk — while 399 people would lose out.

With 801,729 votes cast and a record number of entrants, this was already one of the most eagerly anticipated contests in Dáil history. The clock ticked towards 8am for the first signs of how the race would be run.

At that stage a comprehensive exit poll separated the field.

Fine Gael would win an emphatic victory, it said, but the margin would not be enough to avoid negotiating with a coalition partner.

The broad breakdown of political life for the coming years became clear immediately, even if the fate of individual runners and riders was still days away from being decided. Fianna Fáil would be left to tussle for prominence with a rejuvenated Sinn Féin and a motley band of independents.

Enda Kenny would be the next Taoiseach and his erstwhile opposition partners, the Labour Party, would take the spirit of their old Mullingar Accord and use it to guide a new Programme for Government.

Back at count centres this mattered little to candidates whose jobs hinged on whether they could nose past the quota.

The notoriously temperamental tallies began as soon as the boxes opened at 9am.

The Green Party’s combustible TD Paul Gogarty issued the final pronouncement of this stage of his political career minutes after 10am. “10% of tallies counted. All in my strong area. Loads of 2, 3, 4, but not enough No. 1s. I concede, with good grace,” he said.

Labour was on course to take bragging rights in Dublin, where Fianna Fáil would struggle to keep a single seat. By 2.30pm Paddy Power was paying out on Eamon Gilmore’s party entering a coalition with Fine Gael.

But the larger party’s director of elections, Phil Hogan, was vainly holding out for new results. The fourth and fifth seats in a number of constituencies brought it close.

The first count was slow in coming. When it arrived Joan Burton was re-elected to the Dáil.

Within hours of her trotting home, the stampede began. Dozens of seats had been filled by dinner time, with an increasing number of novices defeating older war horses.

Enda Kenny left Castlebar and made his way to Dublin in the knowledge that he would win an unbelievable four seats out of five in his own constituency and, most likely, 76 in the next Dáil.

In Cork, Micheál Martin was watching his party fall asunder and accepted defeat.

Gerry Adams topped the poll in Louth to add TD to his former titles of MLA and MP.

After 9pm Mr Kenny gave two of the most assured performances of his career, first to RTÉ and then to supporters in the Burlington, before making his way back to Mayo to be with his own.

Throughout the night more of his colleagues got over the line, but not enough to get to the magic majority number of 83.

At 6am on day two, TDs were declared in Dublin South Central. Just Wicklow, Laois/Offaly, Carlow/Kilkenny, Cork South Central, Galway East and West and Kerry South were still counting and recounting. The final TD, debutant Sean Kyne, was not elected in Galway West until Wednesday.

Mr Kenny savoured his success and later on Sunday picked up the phone to ring Mr Gilmore to discuss options. The Taoiseach-designate did not bother ringing Mr Gilmore’s mobile phone, so an invitation to talks awaited the Labour leader when he touched base with his office on Monday morning. Then the second stage of the scramble began.

Mr Martin set about a tour of the country to decide which of his outgoing senators he would order to the knacker’s yard.

On Monday evening Mr Gilmore announced his negotiation team, while Mr Kenny released his selection moments later.

Doors were closed. A news blackout ensued.

International observers watched the prospective government partners, fearing any wrong turns which could drive the economy further over the edge. Germany remained resolute: we would have to cut our way out of trouble. The IMF offered some hope that a lower interest rate could be struck on a portion of a bailout.

Just as a completed draft of the new programme for government was getting close, the leaders of Fine Gael and the Labour Party jetted off to Finland and Greece to win over their European allies.

Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore come back together this morning to drag each other over the finish line following a gruelling week. And the result of these discussions will decide who gets to lift the prizes when the Dáil returns on Wednesday.

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