Fine Gael has been left licking its wounds as junior coalition partners Labour celebrated a double whammy at the polls.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore scored resounding successes on two fronts after Michael D Higgins romped to victory in the presidency and the party looked set to seal a by-election bonus.
With Labour claiming Ireland’s ninth head of state with a commanding 40% vote, Government counterparts in Fine Gael suffered a dismal showing on both fronts.
Gay Mitchell barely registered in the presidential race while the party faithful – blamed for not getting behind their man in an ultimately doomed Aras bid – had to watch as their cabinet partners topped the poll in Dublin Mid-West.
Labour’s Patrick Nulty was confident of securing the seat left empty following the death of late finance minister Brian Lenihan.
“It’s important to remember that the seat does not belong to any person or any party,” Mr Nulty said.
“I thank the people of Dublin West for lending me their vote and I want to honour that.”
Fine Gael’s dismal presidential performance was compounded by coming fourth from the top in the first count in Dublin Mid-West.
Brian Hayes, the party’s director of elections and a junior minister, said it was bad news on all fronts.
“It’s a very difficult day for Gay Mitchell and our party and a poor result across the country... but this is not a general election,” he said.
Mr Hayes said the party would have to look again at how it ran its campaign and also the selection process.
Mr Nulty topped the poll in Dublin Mid-West with 8,665 first preference votes ahead of Fianna Fáil’s David McGuinness and Socialist Ruth Coppinger. Transfers from Fine Gael’s Eithne Loftus were expected to put the seat beyond doubt.
Labour’s almost certain victory in Dublin Mid-West is the first time a Government party has won a seat in a by-election since November 1982 when Noel Treacy was elected in Galway East for Fianna Fáil.
Fianna Fáil leader Mícheal Martin, whose party has no TD representing a constituency in the capital, said Mr McGuinness had put in an excellent performance.
“I am extremely proud of David’s performance in the by-election,” Mr Martin said.
“David is an example of the renewal that is taking place within Fianna Fáil. We will continue in our role as the main opposition party and hold the Government to account in a constructive and proactive way.”