Fianna Fail director of elections John O’Donoghue came under fire from colleagues tonight as major European election defeats were added to their local poll meltdown.
Donegal TD Jim McDaid, Dublin mayor Royston Brady and former government minister Gerard Collins were eliminated as the party looked set to lose two European seats and faced its worst vote since the 1930s.
Sinn Fein made serious inroads into Fianna Fail support across the country and retained a chance of clinching two European seats to add to the party’s large gains in local councils across the Republic.
Their candidate in Northern Ireland, Bairbre de Brun, is also a virtual certainty to go into Europe.
John O’Donoghue, said his party had taken a “shaking” from the electorate as the first day of counting of European Parliament votes came to an end.
However, the first man to be elected to Europe, sitting Fianna Fail MEP Brian Crowley, was adamant Mr O’Donoghue was responsible for costing former minister Gerard Collins a seat in the South constituency.
Mr Crowley, who topped the poll in the constituency and was elected on the first count, said: “He didn’t consult with candidates and I warned him that this would lead to independents and Fine Gael gaining votes.
“I personally have no bitterness towards anyone but I am saddened that we couldn’t keep the two seats.”
Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney was second in the first count and was certain to be elected, while independent Kathy Sinnot vanquished Gerard Collins.
Gay Mitchell of Fine Gael topped the poll in Dublin and was elected on the first count, while Fianna Fail’s Eoin Ryan took second place.
Labour’s Proinsias De Rossa and Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald looked set to complete the line-up in the four-seat constituency.
But former election favourite Royston Brady saw his support collapse and was eliminated early from the race.
Seamus Kirk, the chairman of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party, said Sinn Fein had made gains at Fianna Fail’s expense.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the party’s strong showing across the country showed people wanted to see equality and an end to British rule in Ireland.
“People voted for our manifesto, they voted for our vision for Ireland,” he said.
“I think most people on this island, certainly most people in this state at a time of great wealth, want to see the defence of public services, they want to see people being treated properly, they want to see the housing crisis handled and they also want to see.
“And they also want to see an end to British rule on this island.”
The party’s candidate Pearse Doherty ate into Fianna Fail support in the North West constituency and looked to be in with a good chance of success as Jim McDaid conceded early defeat.
Independent Marion Harkin topped the poll in the first count, with Mr Doherty in second spot and pre-election favourite Fianna Fail’s Sean O’Neachtain in third.
However, with Mr O’Neachtain assured the majority of his colleague, Dr McDaid’s, transfers he appeared set for the first seat, with Fine Gael’s Jim Higgins and independent incumbent Dana Rosemary Scallon still in contact with the battle for the second and third seats.
Dr McDaid paid tribute to his Sinn Fein opponent as he admitted defeat.
“I had Pearse Doherty here on my doorstep and he’s doing very well,” he said.
His party colleague Mr O’Neachtain summed up the feelings of the main partner in the coalition government as members begin to increasingly look over their shoulders at Sinn Fein.
“The Fianna Fail vote has dropped hugely nationwide,” he said.
“Sinn Fein are proving to be en vogue, whether that’s a protest vote or not remains to be seen.”
The first count in the East constituency was not reached until well after the expected 9pm announcement.
Fianna Fail’s Liam Aylward was battling it out with Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness for the first seat, while Avril Doyle looked like making it a Fine Gael one-two during a hugely successful weekend for the main opposition party.
Leader Enda Kenny said he was confident his party could form a new government after the next general election.
Mr Kenny said he would be probing the possibility of forming a coalition with the Labour and Green parties in a bid to oust the existing Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat government.
“I wouldn’t like to say it is easy to extrapolate Dail seats from local elections but I am very happy,” he said.
“We have taken around 26 to 27 per cent of the vote which gives around 30 per cent of local election seats around the country.”
The one crumb of comfort for Fianna Fail from a disastrous electoral weekend was the ratification of the citizenship referendum, which tightened immigration laws, with a Yes vote of 79%.