Sinn Féin has emerged as the surprise poll-topper in the Dublin West bye-election with its candidate Paul Donnelly edging out the pre-election favourite, Socialist Party councillor Ruth Coppinger after the first count result.
Donnelly enjoyed the surge in support for Sinn Féin echoed in votes around the country with an impressive 6,056 votes followed by Coppinger on 5,977.
However, the tight margin in votes – less than 100 – between the two candidates places the bye-election on a knife-edge with the transfer of eliminated candidates set to play a key role in who wins the seat.
The quota of 14,478 means there is a long way to go in the bye-election with some political observers pointing out that Coppinger would be expected to obtain more transfers than her Sinn Féin rival.
The bye-election was called following the resignation of independent TD, Patrick Nulty who was elected as a Labour party representative in the bye-election following the death of Brian Lenihan in 2011.
Fianna Fáil’s David McGuinness, who finished in second place in the previous bye-election three years ago, came in third this time with 5,053 votes.
In a blow for the main Government party, Fine Gael’s candidate, Senator Eamonn Coughlan – the former Olympic athlete - was pipped for fifth place by the independent David Hall – a high-profile campaigner on bank debt and mortgage arrears – who recorded 3,803 – 88 votes ahead of Coughlan.
There was an even worse blow for Labour, who won the last bye-election in Dublin West in 2011, after its candidate Lorraine Mulligan trailed in seventh place with 1,505 votes, behnd the Green Party representative, Roderic O’Gorman.
Three other candidates – independents, Seán Lyons and John Kidd as well as Fis Nua’s Daniel Boyne have now been eliminated with the second count the distribution of their combined 990 votes.
Speaking at the county centre in Citywest, deputy Labour Party leader, Joan Burton who is a sitting TD for Dublin West, admitted the junior coalition party had taken a “shellacking” from the electorate.
Asked whether Labour’s poor showing in the European, local and bye-election placed questions over Eamon Gilmore’s leadership of the party, Ms Burton said it was a much wider issue than being just about one person.