Momentous day for Sinn Féin in Cork North-Central

The four-seater was already one of the most open in the country before a single vote was cast as three of the four TDs elected in 2016 weren't on the ballot this time out.

Momentous day for Sinn Féin in Cork North-Central

It was a momentous day for Sinn Féin in Cork North-Central but it could be a dead heat to fill the final seat in the contested constituency.

The four-seater was already one of the most open in the country before a single vote was cast as three of the four TDs elected in 2016 weren't on the ballot this time out.

It was Sinn Féin who moved to take advantage of the open nature of the constituency, though.

Thomas Gould, a city councillor for the last 11 years, swept home on the first count with almost 3,500 votes to spare.

Mr Gould picked up some 13,811 votes on the first count, almost 27% of the votes cast in the broad constituency.

The room erupted into a rapturous chorus of 'Vote Sinn Féin' to the tune of Prince's 'Purple Rain' when the news was announced, though the tallies early in the day had made it very clear that it was to be Gould's day.

He had a strong lead over all the other candidates from early in the day, snapping up votes in the core city areas like Knocknaheeny, Mayfield and Ballyvolane, but also in areas where Sinn Féin has previously not been the strongest party, including Glanmire.

While voters in Glanmire largely backed Pádraig O'Sullivan, the Fianna Fáil TD elected in the by-election just three months ago, Sinn Féin picked up a surprising number of votes in the area too.

Mick Nugent, a former city Councillor who managed Mr Gould's campaign, said the by-election campaign in November 2019 helped with name recognition throughout the constituency but that the party's message of change resonated with voters.

Mr Gould's election came just an hour after Donnchadh O Laoghaire was elected on the south side of the city, and just before Pat Buckley topped the poll in Cork East in what was a hugely successful day for the party.

"It is a good day to be in Sinn Féin," he said.

Mary Lou McDonald's leadership has been immense. People admire her and listen to her.

Mr Gould said that voters "trust" the party leader and it made all the difference on the doors.

"Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have lost touch with people. We asked people to give us a chance and they have. If they don't work with us, people won't be forgiving," he said.

Padraig O'Sullivan, the Fianna Fail TD elected in the by-election to fill the seat vacated by Billy Kelleher after he was elected to the European Parliament last year, established himself in second place early on, scooping up more than 8,000 first preferences, while Colm Burke, the Fine Gael senator, started strongly too.

Mr Burke first ran some three decades ago and will be hoping to end his long wait for a Dail seat. He faced a challenge in winning over local voters, though, who felt like they had been abandoned by Fine Gael due to Dara Murphy's poor attendance record and position in Europe in recent years.

From there, it was shaping up to be a tight contest for the final seat, though.

Kenneth O'Flynn, Mick Barry, Oliver Moran and Tony Fitzgerald were separated by less than 1,000 votes after the first preferences but Mr Barry proved a strong magnet for transfers from Mr Gould, pushing him into the lead in the race for fourth.

Mr O'Flynn established himself as a bit of a spoiler in the race. A former Fianna Fáil councillor, he left the party just weeks ago when he didn't earn a spot on their ticket and ran as an independent.

He remains popular in many core city areas, potentially hurting the likes of Mr Fitzgerald and Mr Moran, in particular.

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