In with the old as Fianna Fáil rehabilitation bites back

Out with the new and in with the old, the phenomenally rapid rehabilitation of Fianna Fáil that caught so many unawares was eloquently summed up by a disconsolate Jerry Buttimer, writes Catherine Shanahan
In with the old as Fianna Fáil rehabilitation bites back

“I never thought they’d be back in the front room drinking out of the china set,” he said. Legs under the kitchen table maybe, but surely a deep cleanse was in order before taking tea in the good room?

Yet what you got in Cork was a poll-topping performance by the party in three out of five constituencies. In Cork North Central, Billy Kelleher romped home with furlongs to spare, recording a 13% hike in his first preference votes compared to 2011. In Cork South Central, party leader Micheál Martin and finance spokesman Michael McGrath sailed through on the first count, increasing Fianna Fáil’s first preference vote in the constituency by 13.6% in the process (adjusted for boundary changes).

In Cork South West, although the party vote dropped 4% since 2011, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, a general election first-timer, took almost 20% of first preference votes. Her success and that of Independent Michael Collins saw Fine Gael’s Noel Harrington and Labour’s Michael McCarthy wave goodbye to a seat in the 32nd Dáil. Cork North West represented further good news for the party. Here, Michael Moynihan retained his seat and another Fianna Fáil seat (plus another Moynihan) was added for good measure. Like Murphy-O’Mahony, Aindrias Moynihan, formerly a county councillor, was successful on his first national attempt. Between them, the two Moynihans netted more than a third (34.6%) of first preference votes, up more than 10% on the last General Election outing.

Asked for his analysis of why the party regained favour with so many voters after a purgatorial spell too short to chasten, Mr Martin told the Irish Examiner “it didn’t happen today or yesterday” and that the key was reconnecting with people in the community over the past five years.

“The most important thing we did after the last election was to get where we were at,” he said. “Sometimes parties in our situation — which was a horrendous result in 2011 — try and blame all sorts of issues and don’t get it really that the people are telling us where to go. People were telling us that they were very, very unhappy with us. So we went on the ground and reconnected with communties. I’ve been on the doorsteps for five years.

“We did some simple things well, We identified new candidates for the local elections with a view to maybe a subsequent run in the general election. And it’s very exciting that a new generation has come forward.”

Fianna Fáil wasn’t the only party building on the ground. Five years into its 10-year strategy, Sinn Féin has reaped the rewards with a new seat in Cork South Central. Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, taking the third seat ahead of government minister Simon Coveney, described his victory as a “historic evening for Sinn Féin in Cork”.

“Change is coming and this is one of the first signs of it in Cork South Central,” he said.

The news that Mr Coveney had taken the fourth and final seat, also on the 11th count and without reaching the quota, was lost amid the Sinn Féin victory roars. It was a very disappointing result for Fine Gael, Simon said, but “we’ll be back”.

The roars of support were equally loud for veteran socialist Mick Barry, the Anti-Austerity candidate who got in on the seventh count in Cork North Central to chants of “no way, we won’t pay”. He took the second seat in a constituency where Labour’s elusive Kathleen Lynch lost hers and where Jonathan O’Brien took the third seat for Sinn Féin on the eighth count to a rousing chorus of ‘We’re On The One Road’.

Over in South-Central, Ciaran Lynch also lost his seat, leaving Cork city bereft of Labour councillors or a Labour TD.

The fourth and final seat in North Central went to Fine Gael’s Dara Murphy after more counts than you’d find in a Transylvania castle and on the coat tails of first-timer Julie O’Leary, who performed well.

A good day, therefore, in Cork for the republican left and republican right, but not so for those who told us to keep recovery going.

As Mr Coveney said: “Politics is a pretty tough business when the tide goes out.”

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