CENTRE OF ATTENTION Enda Kenny speaks to the local, national and international press on his arrival at the Castlebar Count Centre on Saturday afternoon escorted by Castlebar Mayor Cllr Ger Deere.?Pic: Michael Mc Laughlin.
‘Blue Tsunami’ delivers Fab Four
IT’S been a long, long wait, but judging by the smile on Enda Kenny’s face as he approached the podium at 3.30am last Sunday morning, it was worth it.
Having spent the majority of his adult life serving the Mayo public, this time round the huge gathering at the Count Centre in Castlebar, some of them who had been there for 19 hours, were now serving it up to him. He had been elected to represent the people of Mayo for a remarkable eleventh straight occasion, but this time it was different. This time he was going to be doing more than representing the country of his birth once he got back to Dáil Éireann. This time he was going to be asked to lead the people of the country.
No matter what your political allegiance, it was hard not to get caught up in the moment as Kenny addressed the room on what was a predictable, but momentous day, in so many ways.
There was no cliffhanger in Mayo, indeed there was very little by the way of normal election count drama in Castlebar on Saturday. As early as 10.30am, with 33 per cent of the boxes open, the signals were there for all to see. Fine Gael had blitzed the opposition and the ‘Blue Tsunami’, as so many had dubbed it, would see them take four seats.
It was also clear from early morning that Dara Calleary was going to survive the massacre that took out 13 senior ministers from the last Fianna Fáil Government. Everyone knew it was ‘4 and 1’, we just had to wait and be patient while the count staff went through with their painstaking work.
The result was so clear due mainly to the fact that John O’Mahony and Calleary had polled better than expected - and that Michael Kilcoyne and Jerry Cowley had polled far less first preference than anticipated. The gap between the fifth and sixth candidates was going to be a yawning one of over 4,000 votes. The ‘Blue Tsunami’ had made it impossible for independents, Labour or Sinn Féin to contemplate even getting involved in the race.
Although there was little by way of election count drama in Castlebar, there was a number of ‘firsts’ emanating from the Mayo figures, ‘firsts’ that made the day one to go down in Mayo and Irish political history.
It was first time four candidates from the one party had been elected in a five seater. It was the first time a Mayo candidate had received the highest first preference in the country. It was the first time that Michael Ring exceeded the quota on the first count.
It was probably also one of the first times that the person who headed the poll was not on hand to be lifted shoulder-high when the official result was announced. Enda Kenny had departed for Dublin by the time the first count finally arrived shortly after 8pm. He had hoped the count would come earlier but an unexpected recheck for three missing vote put paid to his best laid plans.
The remainer of the count during this marathon session was very mundane. One by one, the nine candidates who already knew their fate, fell by the wayside, without really even influencing the order of the outcome of seats. They all played their role in the 2011 Mayo election by putting their names on the ballot papers and they will always remember being involved in an election result that will be talked about in Mayo for decades to come.
Sinn Féin, and to a lesser extent, Labour, will feel a solid base of support now exists in Mayo to grow their parties from the grassroots level up, to a position where they can lay claim to claims to a seat in a future election. It may be a long road for them, but Enda Kenny bears testament to travelling a long political road.
The road to redemption will too be a long one for Fianna Fáil in Mayo. They have gone from winning four out or six seats in seven successive Mayo elections between 1977 and 1992 to now having just a single seat. Enda Kenny has spent most of his political life in the shadow of Fianna Fáil in Mayo but it is he who now casts the shadow. However, his rebuilding of his party from their election disaster in 2002 is an example of how rebuilding can be done. Michéal Martin will be counting on Dara Calleary to be a key constructor in that rebuilding process. Calleary has made no secret of the fact that he is up for the challenge and the next task now for Fianna Fáil is to attract candidates of calibre and quality for the local elections in 2014.
The next task for Enda Kenny is to get the country back on track. After 36 years in public life, most would have been eyeing the exit door but Kenny has his toughest challenges in front of him. It will be no easy task but what Kenny needs now is the full and unequivocal support of his own party and his coalition partners for the foreseeable future.
The people of Mayo will be proud to call the Taoiseach one of their own but like everyone else in the country they want to see light at the end of tunnel. The hard work starts in earnest for Enda Kenny on March 9. We wish him the best of luck.