Labour lost its deposit as Fine Gael’s Helen McEntee replaced her father Shane as TD three months after he took his life.
Fianna Fáil achieved a significant bounce back from their general election trouncing two years ago, but never threatened Ms McEntee’s grip on the seat from the first count.
Sinn Féin only registered a modest bump in support to come third, but the big surprise was Direct Democracy Ireland candidate Ben Gilroy pushing Labour into an embarrassing fifth place, which saw the party’s share of the vote crash from 21% in 2011 to just 4.6%.
The near wipeout for Labour caused concern among TDs across the party, with one senior figure saying: “This proves we cannot go into the next election with Eamon Gilmore as leader.”
Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin emerged as a strong contender among TDs to succeed Mr Gilmore, though Social Protection Minister Joan Burton is widely believed to have leadership aspirations.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said Labour had taken the sting of an anti-austerity backlash and indicated the Programme for Government would need to be revamped — though the thrust of coalition policy would remain.
“There won’t be any shift in that but it has been normal since coalition governments became the norm that halfway through a government parties sit down and look at where we are and what refurbishment of the programme might be necessary. I expect that will be done.
“Labour voters didn’t come out. They are making a protest. We have to listen to what they’re saying,” said Mr Rabbitte.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said he did not think Fine Gael could “take succour” from the vote, given the circumstances in which the by-election took place.
Children’s Minister Francis Fitzgerald acknowledged that part of the Fine Gael success had been due to voters showing “an appreciation of Shane” when voting for his daughter.
The 26-year-old now becomes the youngest woman TD in the Dáil after gaining strong support across the constituency.
In an emotional victory address, Ms McEntee described the moment as a “bittersweet” occasion.
“We are here today because my darling Shane, Dad, is not,” she said.
“It is a bittersweet day. He was an amazing person, TD, and minister; if I am half the TD he was I’ll be happy.”