The performances of Fianna Fáil’s two candidates was the talking point of the Cork East constituency.
Kevin O’Keeffe topped the the poll with 8,264 first preferences, more than 3,000 up on his 2011 showing, securing the seat he had hoped to win five years ago when his former junior minister father, Ned O’Keeffe, retired after 30 years in the Dáil.
However, the real surprise package was the showing of running mate and political debutante Barbara Ahern, daughter of another former junior minister, Michael Ahern. She was in with a shot at the fourth seat right up to the end.
Most pundits had written her off after a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ moment when she appeared on a Vincent Browne programme, during TV3’s tour of the constituencies. “I still get a flashback to that,” she admitted.
Ahern, 34, gave up her accountancy job with KPMG in Gibraltar to contest the election and after an intensive canvass said: “I think I’ve got the bug now.”
What was even more remarkable about the performance was the fact most people thought her father’s once-vaunted election machine was beyond repair.
Having lost his Dáil seat in the 2011, Michael Ahern was wheeled out as a dead cert for the 2014 local elections, standing in the Cobh constituency. He got just 1,251 first preferences, failing to win a seat after coming in a humiliating eighth of the 12 candidates.
Meanwhile, poll-topper O’Keeffe acknowledged: “The country understood we played a bad game prior to 2011, but we didn’t lie about what we would do. Fine Gael and Labour lied and that was very much evident on the doorsteps.”
Fine Gael ran three candidates, with outgoing TD David Stanton the only one to get elected. Even those in the count centre who bitterly oppose his party agreed that Stanton “is a gentleman” when it comes to politics.
Nevertheless, his first preference fell around 3,000 since 2011.
“I’m happy, considering what was happening nationally. Maybe we relied too much on focusing on the economy. We should have given equal focus to those who haven’t felt the recovery,” he said.
The party’s other outgoing TD, Tom Barry, was eliminated on the 5th count.
“I would like to contest again. In the meantime, I’ll pay more attention to my business,” said the biochemist, who has a grain drying and warehousing business.
Former Fine Gael stalwart and now Renua candidate Paul Bradford polled 3,244 first preferences and fought until the 7th count.
“We are a new party formed less than a year ago,” he said. “Renua won’t fade away, we are here for the long haul and will plough ahead.”
Labour’s Seán Sherlock’s first preferences were seriously down, dropping from 11,862 in 2011 to 6,949. Nevertheless, it was still good enough to get him re-elected.
“There’s a tried and trusted formula in that you have to do the ground hurling,” the outgoing minister of state indicated.
“We are the oldest political party in the State and it’s the worst day in our history. I believe we can build again and it starts tomorrow.”
After O’Keeffe, Stanton, and Sherlock were elected, three candidates were in with a shout for the last seat.
Ms Ahern from Carrigtwohill and Sinn Féin’s Pat Buckley from Midleton were always likely to go to the wire as eliminations focused on candidates from the southern part of the constituency. The transfers did not favour former Labour-turned-Fine Gael councillor Noel McCarthy from Fermoy. Eventually Buckley succeeded, quite comfortably, ensuring that Sinn Féin retained the seat Sandra McLellan secured in 2011.
For Sinn Féin, it was a good performance as there had been a lot of party infighting in recent months.
“It’s a sweet victory,” said Buckley. “I did see some people in pretty sad circumstances when I was canvassing.”
The Dáil newcomer said one of his priorities would be to assist suicide prevention groups. He had founded a support group in Midleton after the loss of two brothers.