AP 3 - 2022 - 200-2

23 May 2002 Edition

Resize: A A A Print


Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has praised the party's 37 candidates, their families and election teams who worked round the clock to achieve last week's historic breakthrough in the 26-County elections.

He said that while the focus is inevitably on the five new Sinn Féin TDs, "the reality is that we now have a solid foundation from Cobh to Carrickmore, from Louth to Larne, from Wexford to Waterfoot, from Kerry to Derry, to continue to build political strength right across the island".

He also thanked all of those who voted for Sinn Féin and promised that "we will honour the commitments we made and will use wisely the mandate that your votes have given us".


The Tally in Tallaght


IT DIDN'T SEEM LIKE a day for history to be made.

The taxi driver was cheerfully looking forward to a return of the Fianna Fáil/PD coalition. The mention from yours truly of hospitals, traffic jams, a housing crisis and Community Employment cuts threatening to undermine local services saw Taxi Driver veer from the middle of the road to the left. And he said that Nicky Kehoe was just outside his constituency but if he wasn't then Nicky would get his Number 1. Nicky was a Trojan worker for kids and the old folks, Taxi Driver chirped.

Had he sussed I was a Shinner despite my cunning undercover disguise as an 'impartial reporter'? (Editor's Note: There's no such living creature.)

Seán Crowe's front windows were plastered with posters of himself. As Jack would say himself: you can't get too much of a good thing.

All was calm in the Crowes' nest.

Jack was strolling around without an apparent care in the world. He did complain that he should be at the count with his election team but was reluctantly delaying in case it was a long count. His wife, Pamela, was fielding phone calls and organising things for the off. Jack's press officer was getting the needle. He was sweating over trying to thread a needle so that the hem in the candidate's trousers could be fixed. "Bet Alastair Bloody Campbell doesn't have to do this for Tony Blair!"

The TV showed The Rugrats ahead of RTÉ's election coverage.

No, it didn't seem like a day for history to be made.

Two dedicated canvassers arrived to convey our candidate to the polls. A first-time election worker said that it was a great experience, the buzz and the reception they got from people - even the supporter who got up out of bed to vote ten minutes before the polls closed because she'd forgotten to do it earlier. Then there was the couple who'd lost the keys to their car and couldn't leave it unattended. A campaign hand stood guard over the unlocked motor while they were whisked off to do their civic duty.

An hour after the count had begun, word filtered through that Sinn Féin was "doing alright". Doing more than alright, seasoned workers said - the tallymen say we're going to top the poll!

This was starting to look like a day for history to be made.

We arrived at the count centre in the Tallaght Community Sports Centre to cheers from supporters and warm greetings from staff, and even journalists.

Party chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin prowled the reception area, looking relaxed. Wish we were.

We entered the hall where the votes were actually being counted. A deafening cheer went up and TV camera crews, photographers, hacks and well wishers swamped Seán and Pamela.

It looks like you've got it, the media conceded. And we did get it - in the ear from the Returning Officer, who temporarily banished the media melee to the corridors. A string of non-stop media interviews followed. A seat was there for Sinn Féin, right enough. The Tallaght Tallymen had spoken.

Then the word came through. More than a seat - we were going to top the poll!

Mark Daly, Jack's election agent, insisted that it would come to pass.

This was looking like a day for history to be made.

Gerry Adams and Pat Doherty arrived. The media and supporters surged again, supporters of other parties included. There were that many autographs and photographs, you could have sworn it was the Ireland World Cup camp.

Then the actual announcement of the vote came through early that afternoon.

Councillor Seán Crowe and Sinn Féin had topped the poll.

7,446 first preferences. Seven thousand, four hundred and forty-six.

Fianna Fáilers showed their relief that they had held their two seats by chanting: "We got two! We got two!" The Shinners retorted even louder: "We got Crowe! We topped the poll!"

Labour's high-profile Pat Rabbitte TD made it in for the last seat on the sixth count and on his 53rd birthday. Fine Gael's former poll-topping TD, Brian Hayes, tipped as a possible future leader, lost his seat. He was crushed and ashen-faced but the strident anti-republican was generous in defeat to his Sinn Féin rival.

Gerry Adams welcomed Seán Crowe's election. "The first Sinn Féin TD in Dublin since Constance Markievicz."

This was a day when history was made.

And it wasn't over yet.


Ó Caoláin back in style

Anyone who had the opportunity to witness the Sinn Féin team outside the count centre at Cavan Leisure Complex on Saturday could only be astounded at the professionalism of the operation. It was clear to all that this team knew what they were at; there was a job to be done and everybody was aware of what their role was.
Whe the doors opened, as other parties wandered aimlessly for ten minutes, the Sinn Féin contingent went straight for their places. Most ran to the counting areas, while others set up the table and computers to record the tallies as they came in.

There were 14 candidates standing in Cavan/Monaghan, the highest ever, and many commentators were suggesting that it would be Sinn Féin that would feel the pinch. Nobody considered it possible that Caoimhghín O Cáoláin could top the poll as he historically did in 1997.

But as the sign erected on the Louth/Monaghan border states proudly: 'You are now entering Ó Caoláin country'. While the future of Monaghan General hospital was a huge issue for the electorate of the county and the independent candidate fighting on that issue won a seat, it was not, as many suggested, at the expense of the Sinn Féin deputy.

Those of us who had canvassed the homes of the constituency could see that Caoimhghín and the 23 Sinn Féin councillors in Cavan/Monaghan have a record of work that is second to none. Every vote was well earned.

By 3 o'clock on Saturday, it was evident that Caoimhghín was going to top the poll. There were emotional scenes that quickly turned to jubilation as those who had worked tirelessly under the stewardship of Director of Elections Brian McKenna realised that they had reached and surpassed their targets.

The campaign of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to discredit the party and the impact of the huge number of independent and smaller party candidates had failed to knock the wind out of the Sinn Féin election campaign. The results proved it. We were indeed in Ó Cáoláin country.


Ferris tops the poll

When I arrived at nine in the morning the only team assembling behind the big wooden fence in the Brandon Hotel's conference centre was Sinn Féin's - perhaps the other people just didn't want to face what was about to unfold.

The weeks previously I had spent a fair amount of time in the company of some of the people working all the hours available for Martin Ferris and the Sinn Féin cause.

Most of us didn't have passes to get through to where the count was taking place, so we hung over the chest-high plywood barrier, calling to our lot in the centre of things. In the middle of the huge room was a wooded keep where the votes would be actually counted. Given that this was Kerry, it might also later on have a big bull with a rosette on its ear led around inside it. If that were so, I was perfectly placed to put in a bid.

Immediately in front of us was a small table with three laptop computers on it. This was republican mission control for North Kerry. We were waiting for "Houston. We have a TD!" I have a microscopic amount of patience so I asked Paul Henry - at twenty past nine - "when will we get the result?" I received a look of true pity in response. Seated at the screens were the midfield of the Ferris team, Joan O'Connor, the North Kerry Constituency Manager and Ken O'Connell, Sinn Féin's Munster organiser. From the counting area to the consoles, James Sheehan - Martin‚'s Director of Elections, wore out the Axminster back and forth with bits of paper. It was either crucial to the election tally or he was running numbers on the side - I wasn't sure.

The empty acres of the foyer that I had paced several hours earlier were now seriously packed, mainly by Sinn Féin supporters. In an age where commentators are telling us that politics is becoming less and less relevant and the non-vote will grow, here was a throng of working class people who were desperately concerned with the outcome of a democratic contest. It mattered to them at an emotional level.

It was just after midday and I weaved my way past the chatting friends and the baby buggies to where Republican mission control was still hunched over the computer screens. Big Ger Collins gave me the straight scéal. The numbers said it all. "He's topped the poll on the first count. He needs 14 votes in the next count to meet the quota - he's in." And at that, all the previous weeks I had watched these people burn themselves out seemed worth it. Gerry Riordan came over to the barrier handshakes were exchanged. I went out to phone my comrades in Donegal with the news and met the North's Education minister coming in. In the media scrum surrounding the celebrating Sinn Féin contingent, Martin McGuinness described the result as a spectacular victory for Martin Ferris and a day of celebration for Sinn Féin. "I think all republicans should reflect on the development of Sinn Féin. We are now the third largest political party on the island. We are the only 32-County political party. Today, Sinn Féin candidates have been elected on real issues that affect people. They are of the people, they are not in this for themselves."

As I drove away from the count I thought that was as good a way of explaining the whole thing to someone who didn't know this island, who didn't know us. Martin Ferris is of the people and he wants to represent them for their benefit, not his.

Family hailed in moving address

In his victory address, Martin Ferris thanked his election team for a fantastic job and singled out his wife Marie and their six children. "In our life we have spent more time apart than we did together, but it is a testimony and a credit to Marie's love for her children, for whom she had to be both a mother and a father, that she has brought up a beautiful family so supportive of me throughout those dark years," he said.

Ferris congratulated Jimmy Deenihan and Thomas McEllistrom and acknowledged the role of defeated Labour candidate Dick Spring "who as a minister and tánaiste and as a candidate for this area, did tremendous work in his time.

"Thirty-two years ago, I became involved in a struggle for equality, justice and peace and for many of those dark years there was no option but pain and suffering for all our people. And I do not want in any way to say that we suffered more than anybody else. People suffered, the enemy suffered, we suffered. And many of those years I spent in prison and many comrades of mine at that time are now dead and at this moment I remember them. I remember them for their comradeship and for their commitment to justice.

Ferris also singled out a number of activists recently deceased who had worked hard in the constituency before turning to the implications of his victory.

"We stand at the moment, Sinn Féin, with probably four seats and maybe more in this election and whatever about campaigning locally and so forth, the enormous benefit of that to the entire process for peace and justice and to the resolution of conflict in our country cannot be underestimated. From this platform I pledge to you, the electorate of this constituency, that I will work around the clock for your entitlements and for Kerry to be treated as equals. I will also work, with the support of all my party colleagues on the island of Ireland, for Irish unity. I make no apologies that this country should be united, but I want to see it done democratically and peacefully and I want all parties who I will share Leinster House with to support Sinn Féin and everyone else on this island in that quest.

"I leave here now and I thank each and every one of you, especially the electorate, for placing your trust in me in this election, and I will do everything, everything in my power, to ensure that I live up to your expectations and your honour."


Morgan regains Agnew's seat


Arthur Morgan's supporters could afford to smile at 11am on Saturday when the tallies showed he was certain of a seat, but it wasn't until 1am the next morning that they got the chance to cheer. And when they did, they lifted the roof of the count centre. After the long hours of watching endless transfers and eliminations, the pent-up jubilation erupted in full-throated roars from the leaping throng of republicans. And they kept it up while Arthur was hoisted aloft amid the waving tricolours.

Among the cheering crowd was Paddy Agnew, the last republican TD for Louth, elected in 1981 while a Blanketman in Long Kesh. It had not only been a long day but a long number of years for him to see his seat reclaimed and his delight was clear.

A number of encouraging signs for Sinn Féin did emerge during the wait for a result. Arthur had taken votes from right across the constituency. His areas of strong support - Dundalk, Cooley and North Louth - turned out in force but there was also a good showing from Mid-Louth and Drogheda. He also attracted a lot more transfers than his opponents expected. The Independents, the hospital candidate, the Greens and even the defeated Labour candidate, Michael Bell from Drogheda, all transferred respectably to Sinn Féin. It kept Arthur well ahead of any opponents and he was elected on the last count, just short of the quota.

All this was against the background of a campaign which, in the last week or so, focused on Cooley man Tom Oliver, shot dead over ten years ago by the IRA, who said he was an informer. The local media tried to raise it into a major issue. It was also picked up by the Dublin media. It seemed clear that the voters saw through to the main issues in Louth - Sellafield, health, roads, housing, the peace process, all issues around which Arthur Morgan has done tremendous work on the ground.

As Arthur left the count centre at 1.30am, surrounded by supporters, he experienced the two sides of his future life as a TD. A number of people from the surrounding streets came to congratulate him. Some posed with him for photographs, sensing perhaps that a little bit of history was being made. One woman pushed forward her young son. "He wants to shake your hand," she said. Arthur stopped and exchanged a few words with the boy.

Then he was off to a TV studio, where he was interviewed live with Aengus Ó Snodaigh for RTÉ television. No congratulations, none of the cosy backslapping that usually passes between TV reporters and successful candidates. It was straight into questions about Sinn Féin links with violence and about when the party was going to "fully embrace the democratic process". The two new TDs handled the hostile interview with aplomb, no doubt buoyed up by the fact that the ordinary people, from Dundalk to Ballyfermot, have a much better grasp of what the democratic process really means.


Ó Snodaigh abú

If ever there was a candidate who would make a good TD it is Aengus Ó Snodaigh. I have known him for nearly 15 years now and I can honesty say that he never ceases to surprise. He is truly an activist for all seasons. He has been a student agitator, a republican demonstrator, a writer, this paper's sub editor, on occasion this paper's layout artist, a committed Irish language activist, a researcher par excellence, not to mention political representative, to name just a few of the strings to his bow. Oh, yes, and he was a formidable rugby player in his day also.

So when Aengus first agreed to put on the suit and tie and contest the by-election in Dublin South Central, it was clear that here too was a task that he was more than up to.

For the last couple of years, he has assiduously thrown himself into the role of full-time political representative in his area and his efforts and those of his team in the constituency paid handsome dividends in the RDS on Saturday. His sizeable and enthusiastic team may have had to wait until 2.30am for the declaration, but it was well worth it.

As he was hoisted onto willing shoulders and cheered to the rafters on Saturday night, the last of the five republican seats to be declared, there was a real sense of optimism for the future. We have managed to get five strong, very able TDs elected. They will do us proud.


Sinn Féin vote surge


With 121,039 votes in the 26-County Leinster House elections and five TDs, three of whom topped the poll in their respective constituency counts, Sinn Féin set yet another record in its ongoing electoral development. After weeks of negative media comment and deliberate use of opinion polls to undermine Sinn Féin support, the party vote still surged to a new high.

Robbie MacGabhann goes through the constituencies one by one, highlighting the advances made in every constituency and in every region of the 26 Counties by Sinn Féin, the fastest growing party in the 26 Counties and nationally now making up more than 11% of voters on the island.

Connacht Ulster

Ó Caoláin's double double

It was the same again in Cavan Monaghan as Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin topped the poll and was elected on the first count, just as he did in 1997. Ó Caoláin's performance was all the more remarkable, considering the vote losses incurred by Labour, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. All three lost heavily to the Independent Paudge Connolly, who polled 7,722 votes on the first count. Caoimghin's vote 10,832 was enough to get him over the quota and elected, leaving the other parties to recounts and recriminations.

Donegal surge

In Donegal, Sinn Féin contested the two constituencies in the county. In Donegal North East, Padraig MacLochlainn won 3,611 votes for Sinn Féin and 9.93% of first preferences. In 1997, Sinn Fein had won 2,881 votes here.

There was no Sinn Féin candidate in the 1997 elections in Donegal South West. This time two Sinn Féin candidates Pearse Doherty and Tom Dignam ran for the party. Together they polled 3,829 votes, nearly 11% of first preferences.

High gains in Galway

Both Galway constituencies had Sinn Féin candidates. In Galway East, Daithi Mac an Bhaird took 3.7% of first preferences, with 1,828 votes. There was no candidate here in 1997. While Fine Gael had a very marginal increase in its vote by 0.35%, all the other establishment parties lost votes.

In Galway West, Daniel Callanan and Sean Ac Coistealbha more than doubled the Sinn Féin voter performance in this constituency. In 1997, Sinn Féin polled 1,209 votes. This time around the Sinn Féin duo won 2,779 first preferences and 5.62% of the total poll. Of all the parties contesting the election in this constituency, Sinn Féin had the highest gain in vote share, while Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil lost votes.

Woods and Whelan

Longford Roscommon is new ground for Sinn Féin. Councillor Paul Whelan won 3.37% of the poll with 1,673 votes.

It has been quite some time since Sinn Féin ran a candidate in Mayo. The arrival of Vincent Woods, one of the party's most active organisers, meant that there would be a dynamic Sinn Féin presence this time around. Woods took 3.28% of first preferences with 2,085 votes. Watch out for the Sinn Féin council seats here in 2004.

Sligo Leitrim springboard

Sinn Féin's vote in Sligo Leitrim has been growing consistently since the 1994 local elections, when the party won new seats on Sligo Corporation. The 1997 election saw the party win 3,208 votes and in the 1999 local elections this was followed up with new county council seats. This time around the party vote has grown even further, to 10.21% of the poll. Sean MacManus won 5,001 votes, another 3.11% of the total poll compared to 1997.

The Sinn Féin performance is all the more impressive here considering the intense competition for votes, with Marian Harkin given substantial media prominence for the past three years. Sinn Féin was the only political party in Sligo Leitrim to increase its vote share in this election. All of the others lost votes, with Labour down 5.9% and Fine Gael down 9.96%. The 10% won by Sinn Féin is a massive spring board towards winning a seat here next time around.


Kehoe surge embarrasses Bertie

Our hearts stopped in this constituency as erratic transfers stole a seat from Sinn Féin on the last count. Nicky Kehoe won 14.61% of first preferences in this constituency with 4,979 votes, more than double the party share in 1997.

We knew that there would a growing Sinn Féin vote in Dublin Central after Kehoe won a second seat in Dublin Corporation in 1999 but as the ballot boxes were opened it was clear that Sinn Féin would be in the running to take a seat from Fianna Fáil in Bertie Ahern's own constituency.

Kehoe was third behind Ahern and Tony Gregory on the first count. It was the distribution of Jim Mitchell's votes after being eliminated and Joe Costello's surplus that brought Dermot FitzPatrick slightly ahead of Nicky Kehoe and then elected Fitzpatrick on the seventh count.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams put the result in context in the early hours of Sunday morning when he told the gathered Sinn Féin activists that we had won a hugely significant result by running Fianna Fáil so close in a constituency where so much of the party's resources had been spent to win two seats. Sinn Féin will take this seat next time around.

Dublin North, South and Midwest

Tony Flannery won 6.52% of the vote for Sinn Féin in the new three-seat constituency of Dublin Mid West. His 1,855 votes bode well for future growth in the area.

Sinn Féin did not run in Dublin North in 1997 but Mick Davis took just over 3% of first preferences and 1,350 votes this time out. Only Sinn Féin and the Greens showed growth in party support here.

In Dublin South, Sinn Fein's Deirdre Whelan took 3.93% in this most fickle of constituencies.

Dún Laoghaire and Dublin West

In Dublin West, one of the constituencies using electronic voting, Sinn Fein's Mary Lou MacDonald increased substantially on the 1997 vote. She won 8.02% of first preferences with 2,404 votes.

Sinn Féin's Mick O'Brien won 4% of the vote for Sinn Féin in the five-seat Dún Laoghaire constituency. His 2,159 votes also point towards a council seat in 2004 here for the party.

10% for O'Toole

Dublin North-East was one of the redrawn constituencies this time around and now cut down to three seats. Sinn Féin's Larry O'Toole has being making consistent gains here over the last ten years, winning a corporation seat along the way in 1999.

This time his vote grew to 10.24% of the poll with 3,003 votes, substantially up on the 2,212 votes won in 1997.

Ellis runs close

For a while on Saturday, it looked like there could be another Sinn Féin breakthrough in Dublin North West. Dessie Ellis took a massive 18.28% of first preferences, with 4,781 votes. Once again, Sinn Féin were the only political party with a growing vote share in this constituency. It was only the massive transfer between Fine Gael and the independent Bill Tormey that won the third seat for Labour.

Dublin North Central was another new constituency for Sinn Féin this time around. Frances McCole won 5.74% of first preferences, with 2,229 votes opening up the possibility of a strong challenge for a corporation seat in 2004.

South East

Dublin South East showed more Sinn Féin gains, with Daithi Doolan winning7.39% of first preferences with 2,398 votes. There will be strong Sinn Féin challenge for a corporation seat here in 2004. Sinn Féin's performance in this key constituency was the all more impressive considering the media exposure given to the Greens and PD candidate Michael McDowell.

Interestingly, it was after Doolan's elimination that the first two TDs were elected on his transfers. 1,051 votes went to the Green Party's John Gormley while Michael McDowell received 91 transfers from Sinn Féin voters, pushing him over the quota.

Seat in South Central

Dublin South Central was one of the last of the Dublin constituencies to declare. However, it was clear from the very first boxes being opened that Sinn Féin's Aengus Ó Snodaigh would win a seat. Ó Snodaigh won 12.7% of first preferences on the first count. His 5,591 votes were only bettered by Fianna Fáil's Sean Ardagh. Sinn Féin had more than doubled its vote here compared to 1997.

The question is now how many corporation sets can the party take here in 2004? It will be back to work quickly to capitalise on the gains made here.

Crowe tops poll

Despite the dire predictions in the Irish Independent and RTÉ that he would be squeezed out for the last seat in Dublin South West, Sinn Féin's Sean Crowe confounded the political establishment and confirmed the expectations of Sinn Féin voters by not only winning a seat, but topping the poll and getting elected on the first count also.

Sinn Féin had won two council seats here in 1999 and winning the Leisnter House seat was the just the next step, albeit a giant one.


Morgan doubles vote to take seat

Carlow Kilkenny was another first time around for Sinn Féin. Tom Kiernan won 2,078 votes and 3.42% of first preferences. Another strong challenge came from Sinn Féin Councillor Brain Stanley in Laois Offaly. Stanley won 4.11% of the vote with 2,600 first preferences.

Louth was another constituency where for months the media pundits were queuing up to tell us why Sinn Féin would not take a seat. The first count saw Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan run second with 7,121 first preferences. Morgan won 14.95% of the total poll and nearly doubled the vote on 1997. Like Aengus Ó Snodaigh he had to wait until the last count to be elected. Sinn Féin in this constituency had the highest increase in vote share. Only Fianna Fáil and the Greens managed to increase their share on 1997, with Fine Gael, Labour and the PDs all losing votes.

Highest Sinn Féin gains

Sinn Fein's Joe Reilly trebled the party vote in Meath from 2,000 votes in 1997 to 6,042 this time around. Sinn Féin won 9.43% of first preferences. Reilly stayed in the reckoning until the last count and Sinn Féin had the highest growth in vote share of all political parties. This seat is definitely winnable next time and watch out for more council seats in 2004.

The three-seater Westmeath constituency was a new one for Sinn Féin. Niamh Hogg won 1,185 votes, 3.44% of the total poll. In Wexford, John Dwyer built on the 1999 local election performance to record an impressive 4,964 votes and 8.22% of the total poll. Sinn Féin will be challenging strongly for a Leinster House seat next time out, while further council gains in 2004 will be expected.

Mairead Keane was the Sinn Féin candidate in Wicklow, winning 2.8% of the vote with 1,529 votes.



Sinn Féin contested four of the five Cork constituencies. In Cork East, June Murphy increased substantially on the 1997 vote with 2,624 votes and 5.73% of first preferences. In Cork North Central, only Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil increased on the 1997 result. Councillor Jonathan O'Brien won 2,860 votes and 6.34% of the total poll.

Sinn Féin didn't contest Cork South Central in 1997. Tom Hanlon was the party candidate this time around. He won 3.75% of first preferences, with 2,073 votes.

Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin and Ann O'Leary were the two Sinn Féin candidates in Cork South West, a constituency the party did not contest in 1997. Between them they won 2,207 votes, 5.85% of first preferences.

Kerry poll topper

The forces of the 26-County political establishment that lined up against Sinn Féin in the Kerry North constituency were impressive. Despite this, the party moved on from the impressive performances in 1997 and 1999 to win 24.24% of first preferences and top the poll with 9,496 votes.

Martin Ferris had to wait until the second count to get elected, but it gave us all the more time to savour just how much effort was made by the conservative media, Fianna Fáil and Labour to stop Sinn Féin winning this seat.

Muiris Ó Súilleabháin won 3.3% of first preferences 1,210 votes for Sinn Féin in Tipperary South. Sinn Féin did not run here in 1997. In Waterford, David Cullinane polled impressively for Sinn Féin, pulling 2,955 votes and 6.35% of the total poll. There is huge potential for Sinn Féin in this constituency.

Constituency Vote Totals


Constituency    1997 vote    2002 vote    % first preferences    % change on 1997

Carlow Kilkenny        2,078    3.42%   
Cavan Monaghan    11,531    10,832    17.51%    -1.85%
Cork East    1,534    2,624    5.73%    2.17%
Cork North Central    1,654    2,860    6.34%    2.58%
Cork South Central        2,073    3.75%   
Cork South West        2,207    5.85%   
Donegal North East    2,881    3,611    9.93%    1.83%
Donegal South West        3,829    10.75%   
Dublin Central    2,377    4,979    14.61%    7.96%
Dublin Mid West        1,855    6.52%   
Dublin North        1,350    3.07%   
Dublin North East    2,212    3,003    10.24%    4.31%
Dublin North West        4,781    18.28%   
Dublin North Central        2,299    5.74%   
Dublin South        2,172    3.93%   
Dublin South Central    1,937    5,591    12.7%    7.93%
Dublin South East        2,398    7.39%   
Dublin South West    3,725    7,466    20.29%    11.39%
Dublin West    2,004    2,404    8.02%    3.02%
Dun Laoghaire        2,159    4.03%   
Galway East        1,828    3.7%   
Galway West    1,209    2,779    5.62%    3.11%
Kerry North    5,691    9,496    24.24%    8.34%
Laois Offaly        2,600    4.11%   
Longford Roscommon        1,673    3.37%   
Louth    3,651    7,121    14.95%    6.84%
Mayo        2,085    3.28%   
Meath    2,000    6,042    9.43%    5.9%
Sligo Leitrim    3,208    5,001    10.21%    3.11%
Tipperary South        1,210    3.3%   
Waterford        2,955    6.35%   
Westmeath        1,185    3.44%   
Wexford        4,964    8.22%   
Wicklow        1,529    2.8%   
Regional Vote Totals

Region    1997 vote    2002 vote    % first preferences    % change on 1997

Connacht Ulster    18,829    31,638    8.01%    2.96%
Dublin    12,255    40,457    8.91%    6.28%
Rest of Leinster    5,651    25,519    5.66%    4.31%
Munster    8,879    23,425    4.2%    2.54%
26 Counties    45,614    121,039    6.51%    3.96%


Three days of hard work, elation and heartbreak

It began last Friday the way it would continue for the rest of polling day, with a generous drenching by the elements. I was saturated when I popped around the corner to the Clonliffe Road in Dublin to do my duty, the first of many soakings in a long day. Having wielded the black pencil for Nicky Kehoe, I fired up my motor and headed for Navan. I had volunteered to spend the day in Joe Reilly's constituency ferrying voters to and from polling stations.

This turned out to be an inspired move on my part. Throughout the day in Navan, I witnessed a massively impressive exercise in lifting the vote, despite the weather's best efforts to prove that the Northern Hemisphere could produce weather to rival a tropical monsoon. For my part, I was drafted to help Noel lift the vote from three estates and from early afternoon to 7.30pm that evening we drove constantly, as Noel knocked on doors to check whether or not people had voted and offered lifts to others. The affection and respect for local man 'Joey' Reilly was obvious among the people I met and the verdict on the electronic voting was that it was straightforward and a nice novelty. Each time we returned to the estates, though, the puddles were deeper, the rain heavier. Eventually, my little car gave up, sputtering to a halt in the face of the elements. It was my own fault. I should have packed a rubber dinghy as well as a spare tyre.

Within minutes, backup had arrived and Noel was off again like a Duracell bunny. I squelched back to base and spent the next couple of hours observing Joe Reilly directing operations, sending young and old party workers off in all directions. He barely broke stride to order a batch of chicken curries as he marked off names on his wall of green votes, those considered to be sure Sinn Féin voters. As a snapshot of intense political activity and camaraderie, this was unparalleled.

Among those who arrived in to report was Paddy, who singlehandedly and on foot had brought out 250 votes from his local area. Paddy has been involved for many decades but here was no cynical party hack - his enthusiasm was infectious. Also weighing in late was a contingent of activists from the Six Counties who had provided invaluable organisational assistance during the campaign. This was an all-Ireland party in action.

After the polls closed it was off to Simonstown for the count, a bizarre three-hour experience. Hundreds of party activists waited and sweated in a sports hall while we speculated on whether or not all the modules containing the vote would make it through the floods from the various polling stations. As we lingered impatiently, news came in that Mary Lou McDonald had secured 8% of the vote in Dublin West and that Nora Owen had lost her seat in Dublin North.

When the result finally came it was in cruel fashion. The candidates were led into a side room to be given the results first. Standing on chairs in the hall and straining for a view, the result became apparent as soon as we saw Director of Elections Tony Cantwell's drawn face. Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were alerting their supporters to their respective successes with three and two finger salutes, respectively. The subsequent announcement was academic.

Joe Reilly, it later emerged, had secured over 6,000 first preferences, 9.4% of the vote, coming in fifth on the first count but later overhauled on transfers by Fine Gael's Damien English. Our Navan man had staked a strong claim for a seat next time, however, and his success boded well for the more conventional counting day ahead.

Bleary eyed, I climbed into my now dried out car, the rain having perversely stopped after the polls closed. I headed back to Dublin and bed for a few hours before it all began again.

On Saturday, the RDS hosted what may be the last great manual general election count, a wake greeted with dismay by most party activists, for whom the tallying and the blood sport of a good day-long count is like the World Cup and an All-Ireland Sunday rolled into one.

We didn't have long to wait before the good news started to roll in. All over the country, the Sinn Féin vote was up. Martin Ferris and Seán Crowe were busy wrapping it up early by topping their respective polls. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin had comfortably retained his seat and Arthur Morgan was nicely placed in Louth, while in the RDS, Dessie Ellis and Nicky Kehoe had pulled out particularly impressive results. Aengus Ó Snodaigh polled a decisive first count success and his victory was assured, although we had to wait until 2.30am for the official declaration.

The day was peppered with eruptions of cheers and flag waving by knots of Sinn Féin election workers, as counts came in and news filtered through of successes elsewhere. This was viewed with obvious displeasure by some political opponents. What they were missing was that the enthusiasm and vibrancy of the youthful Sinn Féin contingent is the very reason why the party is on the up. As the night drew to a close and all that was left to be declared was the election of Aengus and Labour's Mary Upton, one of her supporters turned to another and complained "it wouldn't matter if there were 2,000 of us, they'd still cheer if they got 20 votes". Precisely.

Earlier in the day, listening to the radio, John Bruton had been getting stuck into his successor's legacy. Ignoring his own leadership failures, he opined that the reason Fine Gael had imploded so spectacularly was because the party had depended on personalities rather than policies. There was no General O'Duffy coming over the hill he declared, before singling out the conviction of Sinn Féin as a future model for his party. Bizarre indeed.

For most of the evening, we were confident that we would take six seats, but at the death, even as Fianna Fáil were conceding defeat, transfers wrested a seat from Nicky Kehoe in Dublin Central in favour of Bertie Ahern's running mate, Dermot Fitzpatrick. Sinn Féin immediately sought a recount, but with a 74-vote margin, the prospects were never good.

Nevertheless, on Monday we returned to the RDS to give the famed Fianna Fáil tallyers a run for their money. After another long day, the jig was finally up and Nicky's team conceded but as RTÉ reported on the Nine o'Clock News, you could have been confused over who had actually won, as Nicky was shouldered high and cheered to the rafters for a job well done.

As the campaign finally ended for Sinn Féin and we left the RDS, there was real satisfaction that the party had made a major breakthrough but there was also a strong sense of unfinished business.

Among others across the state, Joe Reilly, Dessie Ellis and Nicky Kehoe are already looking hungrily to the next election. It would be a foolhardy pundit who would bet against them.


Election of the Rains sweeps old opposition away


The Greens and Sinn Féin have much in common in policy terms, notably on the EU and the Treaty of Nice. But the building of an alternative opposition not including Fine Gael would require Labour involvement
The General Election of 2002 will be remembered as the Election of the Rains when, despite torrential downpours all day, voters in the 26 Counties turned out to change the composition of the Dáil in a most unexpected way. For Sinn Féin, the Election of the Rains has been as important a milestone as the Election of the Snows in 1917, when Count Plunkett and his fellow republicans battled through drifts of snow to win the North Roscommon by-election. The result heralded a Sinn Féin landslide the following year.

It has been rightly said that the electorate changed the opposition, not the government. The result is an indictment of both Fine Gael and Labour. The real winners are Sinn Féin, the Greens and independents. But Sinn Féin is best placed to use its success. Only Sinn Féin has both the politics and the organisation to build from opposition and send its representation into double figures next time. Only Sinn Féin, as an all-Ireland party, can use its team of TDs to provide a new political dynamic on this island.

With two TDs in Dublin, two in the Border counties and one in Munster, Sinn Féin is poised to build strategically from a wide territorial base. With a strong and well-defined political appeal on both national self-determination and social and economic justice, the republican party can win a growing number of voters.

No one predicted the massacre of Fine Gael. Their Front Bench has been wrecked and they have only three seats in the whole of Dublin, just one ahead of Sinn Féin. The diverse fabric of Fine Gael has been torn apart. In rural Ireland their traditional big farmer support base has been undermined, as voters cross old party lines to support Fianna Fáil, the PDs or independents. Only in strongholds west of the Shannon and in Munster does the Blueshirt flag still fly. In urban Ireland, the middle-class support of Fine Gael has been eroded disastrously. Former Fine Gael voters or would-be voters, be they of conservative or liberal hue, can find what they want in Fianna Fáil and the PDs or in Labour and the Greens.

The Labour Party also had a bad result. They retained their number of seats but lost former leader Dick Spring, while current leader Ruairi Quinn had to battle for his seat. Almost alone among the media, An Phoblacht described the merger of Labour and Democratic Left as a funeral, not a wedding. And so it proved. The demise of DL did not strengthen Labour but opened up the field on the left, facilitating the entry of Sinn Féin and the Greens. Some commentators have said that Labour was mistaken in not entering a pre-election pact with Fine Gael. Such a pact would likely only have benefited Fine Gael, perhaps saving some of their seats but not averting disaster. And Labour would have been tied to a sinking ship.

The reality is that the potential seat gains for Labour were lost to Sinn Féin and the Greens. If you total the number of seats won by those three parties you get 32 - just one short of the number of seats won by Labour in the 'Spring tide' election of 1992. Looked at another way, the same statistic is a further cause of depression for Fine Gael, since they are now outnumbered by the other opposition parties, and that's not even counting the independents.

That key number also points to the realignment in politics. The Greens and Sinn Féin have much in common in policy terms, notably on the EU and the Treaty of Nice. But the building of an alternative opposition not including Fine Gael would require Labour involvement. That poses a dilemma for Labour. If they continue their support for the Nice Treaty and campaign for a Yes vote in the autumn, they will certainly lose further support. Many within Labour will be unwilling to participate in the travesty of democracy that a re-run of the same Nice Treaty would represent.

Meanwhile, the coalition mating dance has begun. Mary Harney did a little 'hard to get' routine on Tuesday when she said some of her eight new TDs would prefer not to go into government. Don't believe a word of it. The PDs are a party of careerist office-holders. They have no real organisation on the ground and rely on their high media profile to win votes. Deprived of the oxygen of governmental office, they wither. Bertie Ahern would much rather have the PDs as a coalition mudguard than a howling opposition with Michael McDowell in full cry. The independents are too diverse and too demanding to deal with. The PDs offer stability and policy compatibility. They can be blamed for the harsh decisions of the incoming government. They can pose as the moral guardians.

Thus, in the otherwise radically changed Irish political landscape, the strange symbiotic relationship between Fianna Fáil and the PDs will continue, rather like one of those birds that crocodiles allow to pick their teeth.




An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1