Political nerds have a dilemma on election count days. There’s a choice between going to a count centre and seeing the votes as they come in or staying at home or at an election results party to see national results and television analysis and interviews. I opt for the former, having gone to count centres at general and local election counts since 1997 (nine times in all now, including both Lisbon referendums).
The RDS is probably the place where it balances out to a degree. There are enough counts going on that one can get a decent feel for what’s going on and with supporters from around Dublin there, there’s a good buzz around too. One of the best things about count centres is the cordiality between members of different parties. I was tallying for the first time, for Dublin South-Central, and was standing next to a group of Sinn Féin talliers, chatting the odd bit when not concentrating on the votes in front of us. In general party activists can get along well, we can all respect the commitment we have to our different, but the day of the count is the one day when all sniping can really be put aside, as we all experience the emotions of ups and downs, seeing effort pay off or not.
I liked the chance to meet those from the particular cross-party networks I’d built up from my political activity before Fine Gael, those in the PDs and those I’d met through the Lisbon campaign. As someone who experienced the feeling of a count day on the collapse of a party, I appreciated the disappointment of the Green Party members. To a lesser extent too, I can sympathize with Fianna Fáil supporters. I think given everything, they deserved to lose badly in this election, as Mary O’Rourke acknowledged again on Pat Kenny this morning, but one shouldn’t yet dismiss or sneer at the good intentions of their members. I think anyone active in a political party should have found themselves nodding with Conor Lenihan in his reaction to Vincent Browne last month.
I arrived at the RDS just as I heard the results of the exit poll, putting Fine Gael at 36%. After polls putting us a bit above that, I was disappointed given that opinion polls had suggested we could reach our previous high of 39% in November 1982. I knew though that we would at least pass that year’s result in terms of seats, and it was clear soon enough that Fianna Fáil would hold only one seat in the capital.
Though we had a modest result in Dublin South-Central, I was delighted to see Paschal Donohoe win in Dublin Central, well deserved after a few years hard slog, winning the seat the party had held till Jim Mitchell was defeated in 2002. And in Dublin South-East, where I had done most work, it was great to see Eoghan Murphy coming in second place behind poll-topper Lucinda Creighton, ahead of the two Labour candidates. After leaving the count centre in the evening, I returned for around one in the morning to see Eoghan elected to the third seat, then back to the Burlington till it closed, not back home till near 12 Sunday morning.
Whatever about the ambitious hopes of the party during the campaign, it was a great result overall, with 17 seats across Dublin where we had only 3 in 2002. It will be interesting to see the dynamic in constituencies like Dublin South-East and Mid-West, where all TDs are from Fine Gael and Labour. I had hoped Dún Laoghaire might join that group, that Ivana Bacik might pip Richard Boyd Barrett for the fourth seat. Of all candidates from other parties, she was possibly the one I was most disappointed not to see elected.
And great for Fine Gael nationally, an all-time high. Fine Gael will be in coalition with Labour from next week, we’ll see how the spoils of government and ministerial positions work out over the weekend and next Wednesday, and I’ll comment on this again. Though it shouldn’t be a surprise that I think we should take Finance and control the economic debate while giving way to Labour on certain social issues.