And so the elections are over and the dust has settled. By common consent, this last election count was a dull, lacklustre affair; there was none of the drama of the past, the excitement, the often angry words as passions ran high and party supporters heaved and gate crashed their way into the counting centre.
One of the few enduring memories of that long day remains that of the seasoned, dyed in the wool Fianna Fáil activist whose anguish was palpable as the Euro results were counted and it was plain that the party of his birth was in for a serious drubbing. And as the Fine Gael bandwagon disappeared over the horizon, carrying its two nominees to victory, he could only ponder on the paltry 12 percent share of the vote which Brendan Smith and Anne Rabbette garnered between them, far short of the 20 percent needed to even win one seat.
“Where did it all go wrong,” he asked plaintively, without really expecting an answer. “It wasn’t so long ago when, no matter who we ran, we could be sure of our own vote. But that’s gone now, and a frontbencher and a sitting TD can’t even get a single quota between thenm.”
But worse was to come for himself and his fellow Soldier of Destiny, their mood becoming even more morose as they pored over the tally results of their native Claremorris. “Look at this,” said our man, scarcely believing what he was seeing. “Over 50 percent of the vote gone to Fine Gael, and only 20 percent to us. Four seats out of six seats for Fine Gael. What’s happening?”
His colleague, ever a Job’s comforter, could only add fuel to the fire. “And a fifth seat gone to Finn. And sure isn’t he Fine Gael as well.”
And so it went all day, as the shifting sands of electoral support undermined traditional tribal loyalties and affirmed that the old days of rock solid, dependable party allegiance was coming to an end. The days of the old men in grey suits was over. We were entering a new era when personality would be key and where a new generation of voters were determined to think for themselves.
There were, of course, scenes of joy and celebration. There were spectacular winners, like everyone’s favourite, Maria Walsh, on the big stage and, closer to home, Mark Duffy and Johnnie O’Malley and Patsy O’Brien and Michael Kilcoyne. O’Malley’s win was seen as
specially sweet as happens always when a doughty battler gives a punch in the nose to the party elite.
But maybe the biggest winner was the one who did not get elected at all. Saoirse McHugh came from nowhere to rattle the cages and come within a credible distance of winning a seat in Europe. A virtual unknown in political terms, her half hour on the Prime Time TV debate turned the tide in her favour, to the extent that she now finds herself being lauded in the national media as a likely Green Party TD for Mayo.
And well she might, because this time one gets the feeling that the Greens are here to stay. The future of our fragile planet is now an issue at centre stage, a development which seems to have caught our mainstream politicians badly on the hop. Young people are taking up the cudgels and their idealism is chipping away at the granite face of old party certainties.
The young generation which, two years ago, persuaded their parents and grandparents to ditch their old conservative leanings and support the concept of same-sex marriage as the right and decent thing to do, will do exactly the same when it comes to saving our planet.