Election Diary 2020
Storm Ciara rolled in on Saturday with heavy rain and strong winds. And it continued into Sunday. But it was mild in comparison.to the political storm that swept the country starting at 9am on Sunday morning when the ballot papers came tumbling out of the boxes.
The first indication of what was about to happen came with the exit poll on Saturday night which suggested three-way tie between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein. But it turned out that even that poll underestimated the massive vote that was hooveredup by Sinn Fein in almost every constituency in the country including Roscommon/Galway.
The first quote that resonated with me came on Sunday morning as I watched ‘Morning Ireland’ on RTE News Now TV shortly after 8am when it was remarked by one of the panellists (not a party member) that “Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are now the parties of old people and pensioners, and unless they change they are in terminal decline. The young people have voted for change and that’s the reality”It was something that stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
I went to the count in the Hyde Centre at about 9.30am. After chatting with my colleagues Dan and Paul and everyone else squashed together in the press area on the stage, I went to the tally room for the latest news. Noel Carr was directing operations and it was great to see him in such great form. Well known Fianna Fail activist P Burke was there helping out as was well-known Roscommon GAA official Brian Carroll. Senator Terry Leyden and Larry Brenan were also there both with a big Fianna Fail interest in proceedings.
It was becoming very clear very early that Sinn Fein’s Claire Kerrane would have a major say in the election. As sheet after sheet came out of the printer it was evident that Michael Fitzmaurice was running away with it at the top of the poll. Dennis Naughten was well down on first preferences but was still polling well, and the Sinn Fein candidate Kerrane was also polling very strongly and was well ahead of the two Fianna Fail candidates Eugene Murphy and Orla Leyden, and Fine Gael’s Aisling Dolan.
At 11am I returned to the press area and chatted with Paddy O’Gorman who was there to cover for RTE Radio. He asked me to make a prediction I called the third seat for Claire Kerrane because with each tally update she was puling further and further ahead of the Fianna Fail pair in particular.
That reality was beginning to dawn on the Fianna Fail people at the count and they looked ashen – faced at the figures as the Sinn Fein surge that was witnessed nationally was becoming a reality in Roscommon-Galway. Could it really be that there would be no TD elected in the constituency representingFianna Fail and Fine Gael? Even at that early stage it was long odds-on.A truly astounding development by any strength of the imagination.
The final tally figures confirmed what we suspected might be the case. Fitzmaurice would top the poll and would be elected on the first count. Dennis Naughten was well down in his vote but was comfortable, and that Claire Kerrane would see off all challengers to take a seat for Sinn Fein.
At about 1pm I went home to prepare to go to the Roscommon v Clare National League game which was also taking place in Dr Hyde Park at 2pm just a couple of hundred yards from where the counting was going on. While having a cup of tea I watched as Dessie Ellis and his supporters waved tri-colours and sang “Come out ye Black and Tans” at a count centre in Dublin. RTE were reporting a massive first-preference vote for Mary Lou McDonald’s party in almost every constituency and the celebrations around the country were only beginning.
Having braved the bitter cold at the match (and a good win) I was back in the count centre about 4.30pm and now the Sinn Fein surge was beginning to dawn on people with stories of colossal votes and huge surpluses for their candidates all over the country. Fine Gael were struggling and Fianna Fail were not doing much better.
In our local constituency,Fianna Fail were bitterly disappointed at their showing. Instead of feiling one strong candidate they spilt the vote and OrlaLeyden performed at a level way below what was expected. Aisling Dolan polled very well for someone who had joined the race so late but she was never really in the frame. If Fianna Fail are in trouble in the constituency it is nothing compared to the Fine Gael woes, but that’s for another day.
Back in the Press area Carol Coleman from Carrick on Shannon was the RTE TV correspondent while Eoghan Young Murphy, formerly of this parish was doing his bit for his new employers Newstalk. But there was a sense of inevitability about it all.
It was a matter of when the first count would come and the coronation of Michael Fitzmaurice, and it happened shortly before 7pm. The big man from Williamstown arrived into the hall to much fanfare about five minutes beforehand with his wife Maria and family and a huge band of supporters.
The ever-efficient and very personable returning officer Mary Raftery made the announcement and while she first read out Fizmaurice’s vote as “eleven thousand” she quickly corrected that to 13,077 votes.A remarkable performance. Cue much roaring and shouting and the customary ‘up on the shoulders’ moment for the new poll-topper.
A candidate for the comment of the day came as Fitzmaurice celebrated his great performance. It came from a friend of mine who said “He got in because he stayed out” That about summed it up.
About an hour later Claire Kerrane arrived into the centre. There was less of a hullabaloo about her entrance than there had been about Fitzmaurice. Maybe it was that she just wasn’t known! I had never net her. I approached her and introduced myself and congratulated her. “I’m not there yet” she said. “It’s a certainty they can’t catch you” I told her, and so it transpired.
I was up early on Monday morning so I left the count centre about 9pm on Sunday night. I know that later Denis Naughten arrived for his election and the lights went out! He had dropped 12% of his first preference vote and still got in. As the late Noel Whelan used to say, Dennis is from the Fine Gael ‘gene pool’ which certainly explains why that party continue to struggle in this constituency. He was elected comfortably in the end.
Because of the power cut, Claire Kerrane had to wait until Monday to be officially elected, but once again Roscommon has thrown up a political surprise. I watched her election on RTE News now as the tri-colour waved at The Hyde Centre by her ecstatic supporters.
So another election is over and our three TD’s have been elected. With the national picture so fragmented and unpredictable who says that we will not be back in The Hyde Centre again in a few months’ time for more fun and games?
But we have more political history in our constituency. The first Sinn Fein TD to represent the constituency since Count Plunkett in 1917 and no Fianna Fail or Fianna Gael TD either.