By Noel Baker
West Cork poll-topper Michael Collins has signalled he will consider contesting the next general election after storming to victory as an Independent candidate.
With the results of the first count in West Cork expected shortly, the Schull-based farmer said he expected a general election to happen "soon", but demurred when asked if he would run.
According to tallies he will be elected to Cork County Council on the first count, more than 400 votes clear of the expected 2,900 quota.
"Speaking to people on the doorsteps, I knew they were coming with me," he said.
Campaigning on issues such as Single Farm Payment penalties and Leader funding cuts, Mr Collins said voters in West Cork had backed him comprehensively while also "sending a message" to the Government.
He said rural issues had been neglected and required a dedicated Minister at the Cabinet table, with the Government "totally out of touch with the people".
"The people of West Cork have spoken today and sent a very clear message out," he said.
Asked if it meant he would run for the Dail in two years time he said: "We'll see what happens," adding he would focus on delivering for the people of West Cork at local authority level.
"Personally, I think there will be an election [general election] soon," he said.
Labour TD Michael McCarthy has said it is "a given" that party leader Eamon Gilmore will move to a new department in a bid to shore up support ahead of the next general election.
With Labour facing a drubbing in the local and the European elections, pressure is growing on Minister Gilmore amid rumblings of a possible leadership change.
However, Deputy McCarthy said the party "should not hit the panic button" but did need to "heed the message" issued by voters.
"There should be no panic mode", the West Cork TD said at the count in Clonakilty. "There is no doubt that people are very annoyed. That is where the message hits home hardest and strongest. It is a very strong message that needs to be heeded."
Deputy McCarthy's sister, Norma Thomson, was the Labour candidate in West Cork in the local elections but is not in contention for a seat.
He said Labour should not pull out of government but said Labour was paying the price for issues such as the property tax and household charge - both of which he said were "handled badly".
He also said announcing details of the water charges shortly before announcing the polling date for the elections was "not the smartest thing".
On where the government goes from here he said: "There is a case for a fairly dramatic reshuffle."
He said Eamon Gilmore would be switching portfolio, as demanded by some backbenchers, and that issues to help "the squeezed middle" should now be at the core of government policy.
He also said free GP care for the under 5s would have helped, and said the USC needed to be relaxed at the next budget to help those "who qualify for nothing and pay for everything".
He also said the Christmas bonus for social welfare recipients could be reintroduced but denied it was a populist move, claiming it was simply "the right thing to do".
"There is room for us to reinvigorate ourselves and heed the warning given to us," he said.
He added that any shift to Sinn Féin and others at the next general election could lead the country back into "bailout territory".
Michael Collins has been elected on the first count in West Cork with 3,409 first preferences, comfortably over the quota of 3,031.
Fine Gael's Noel O'Donovan received 2,534 votes, with Fianna Fáil's Joe Carroll in third on 2,035 votes.
Fianna Fáil candidates Christopher O'Sullivan and Patrick Murphy appear well placed with first count totals of 1,916 and 1,807, respectively, although things tighten up considerably after that, with fewer than 500 votes sepatating 10 candidates.
The West Cork division has right seats, down four from 2009. Among those looking unlikely to make the cut this time are outgoing Cllrs Donal O'Rourke of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's Dermot Sheehan. They received 1192 and 1,024 votes, respectively.
Above them are Sinn Féin's Paul Hayes, Fine Gael's John O'Sullivan, outgoing independent Cllr Declan Hurley and the Fine Gael pair of Mary Hegarty and Adrian Healy, as well as independent Finbarr Harrington.
It could prove to be a long night.