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Election Diary 2020

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.

Extraordinary.

(Roscommon People)

Election Blog 11- No One Wants To Dance With Me

Election Blog 11- No one wants to dance with me.

It’s five days on after one of the most momentus elections that we have ever seen and now the dance has began to try to form a Government. However while Mary Lou McDonald might be most glamorous woman in the hall it would appear that there are very few who want to dance with her.

First she might have hoped that Brendan Howlin might take the floor. After all Labour are ‘left-leaning’ and their six votes would have been useful. However not alone did Howlin not agree to dance, he ruled out any dance and promptly left the hall altogether.

Leo Varadkar and his friends were never going to dance. Fine Gael have stayed sitting down and they certainly won’t be taking the floor with Mary. Now Micheal Martin has turned up his nose at the chance of taking the floor. Too much was said during the election campaign. He can’t go back on that now.

So where are we now? The dance floor remains empty. Micheal Martin may yet take the floor along with the Greens and hope for the support of Fine Gael in a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement. It’s not going to happen.

There are two options left. Maybe Fianna Fail and Fine Gael could join with The Greens to form a Grand Coalition. It would be a stable Government and there is little between the two main parties in terms of policies but can they set the old civil war rivalries aside? Very unlikely.

So that leaves the final option which is another election. Would Sinn Fein run more candidates and win 50 to 60 seats? The wind is certainly behind their backs but the big question is now, was their vote genuine support for Sinn Fein or a protest vote that could go in any direction in a new poll?

My view? Well, I didn’t see the spectacular rise of Sinn Fein last weekend. It could be a trend. I can’t see anything other than another election within three months. Whether that sorts anything out is anyone’s guess. After another poll we might be in the exact same position.

The music is playing but there are very few dancing

Election Blog 10 – The Old Order Is Gone – And Gone Forever

Election Blog 9 – Sunday 9th February (9am)

It is almost three days since I had time to write the last blog and what a three days it has been. To get the Roscommon/Galway election out of the way first, I have a few observations. The story of the Sinn Fein surge is now well known and Claire Kerrane has taken a seat in the constituency against the odds. I had reckoned that she would at least double her vote from 2016 (over 3,000) but I didn’t think she would get in. Fair play to her too.

It was a spectacular performance from Michael Fitzmaurice who put in a solid four years, was high profile locally and nationally on the media, and benefitted by his decision not to go into Government with the Independent Alliance in 2016. The addition of a nice big chunk of East Galway into the constituency was also a help to him. It remains to be seen what role he will have in the formation of any possible Government.

Dennis Naughten dropped a massive five and a half thousand first preference votes and was still elected comfortably but with the national trend away from the established figures, he will have to look out if there is any election again shortly.

In truth this election was done and dusted as soon as the tally figures were known on Sunday morning. The big shock was the poor performance of Fianna Fail who decided to run two candidates and neither came near being elected. Orla Leyden polled very poorly while Eugene Murphy was simply squeezed out by a combination of the swing against the Government parties and very poor vote management. The party are in real trouble in Roscommon if they do not make a massive change.

Aisling Dolan actually did quite well for someone that joined the race so late in the campaign. However she will always suffer as long as Dennis Naughten is in the field as he attracts a lot of ‘Fine Gael’ votes. We now have a constituency where there is no FG or FF TD. Extraordinary.

On the National scene it will be very interesting indeed to see if Mary Lou McDonald can put a government together ‘on the left’. I think that is very unlikely as by my calculations she won’t get beyond the mid-sixties in terms of seat numbers.

The next option is for Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein to go into coalition along with The Greens. But from talking to FF people on the ground there is a major groundswell of serious reservations among senior TD’s about going back on what was said during the campaign. It has been a very poor election for FF and they may not have the stomach for five years in Government with a party that they despise
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There is no chance whatsoever of Fine Gael going into Government with Sinn Fein and that requires no more comment. A Grand Coalition between FG and FF is extremely unlikely even though there is very little between the two parties in terms of ideology or policy. There old ‘civil war’ politics is still a factor. However it is the only option that makes sense.

So where does that leave us? I am of the opinion that we will be back at the polls within three months. What that will solve is anyone’s guess and we might end up in the same situation again.

Sinn Fein have got a massive vote in this election and in some ways I would like to see them in Government. Complaining about what’s going on in Government is easy. Getting in there and making decisions is another thing entirely.

One thing is for certain. The old order has changed and changed forever. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have had it too easy for over 100 years and they have lost their way. It is doubtful if they will ever re-discover old glories.

On Morning Ireland last Sunday morning one of the guests remarked “Fianna Fail and Fine Gaels are now the parties of old people and pensioners” I have been thinking about that statement a lot since, and you know. It’s true.

The country will never be the same again for good or for bad.

Election Blog 9 – SF Storm Blows Through Irish Political Scene

Election Blog 9 – Sunday 9th February (9am)

As storm Ciara rages outside there is a storm blowing through the corridors of Irish politics as the Sinn Fein surge has become a reality. From the exit poll results we have a situation where FF FG and Sinn Fein are now neck and neck on 22%.

Of course it’s early days yet and the final seats in many constituencies will be on a knife-edge. But there are a few things that are very clear. Sinn Fein will be difficult to keep out of Government whether it be after this election or the next one. It is also obvious that young people have voted for Mary Lou McDonald’s party in droves. They have really arrived in this election and are there to stay. The ‘big two’ cannot ignore and dismiss them any longer.

If the exit poll figures stand up it’s not a bad election at all for Fine Gael who were facing a possible melt-down. It would appear that they clawed their way back into contention over the last week of the campaign.

As for Fianna Fail the only consolation for them is that they will probably end up as the biggest party however that will bring huge pressure to bear on Micheal Martin with regard to Government formation. Can he go back on his word and talk to Mary Lou? If not, Government formation will be nigh on impossible and we will be back for another election in six months time.
But the story of this election are Sinn Fein who have captured the younger vote but they have been seen as the opposition to the Government, and it may well be a very different situation if they actually have to go into Government and make tough decisions.

It’s going to be a long day today but Ireland is changing and Sinn Fein are leading that change.

Election Blog 8 – The Prediction!

Election Blog 8 – Straight Talking To The End

This is the column I was not looking forward to writing because when you make predictions it is always there in black and white for people to look back on! Looking at the national picture, there are afew very interesting trends emerging as we look ahead to Saturday’s poll. Fine Gael are in a bit of trouble, and are set to lose seats, and Fianna Fail are set to gain some and look certain to become the biggest party.

But it is clear that there is a surge in support for Sinn Fein and that young people in particular are going to vote for them in huge numbers. The legacy issues that many people in older generations would have with Sinn Fein are not a factor with younger people who want a change from Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.There is sure to be a big increase in support for the Greens and they will make significant gains. What that all means in terms of any possible Government formation after the election is anyone’s guess.

Will FF and FG join together to keep Sinn Fein out of Government? Will either or both big parties go back on their word and deal with Mary Lou? Would FF, The Greens, Labour and a few others have enough to form a coalition? All those questions and many more will be answered after Saturday.

I am making the following prediction for the various parties. I have put their 2016 figures in brackets. There are 160 seats this time, 159 and the Ceann Comhlairle.
Fianna Fail 55 (44), Fine Gael 43 (50), Sinn Fein 27 (23), Labour 6 (7), Greens 8 (2), AAA/PPP 5 (6), Independents 15 (19).

Locally it looks like Michael Fitzmaurice and Dennis Naughten will be re-elected with a huge battle now likely for the final seat. Fitzmaurice looks like he will head the poll. He has been a very prominent performer at local and national level over the past four years and the addition of an extra area in East Galway will be a help to him too. Dennis Naughten will probably drop votes, but he can afford to, and he will still be elected.

The battle for the final seat is going to be very interesting. Most people are saying it is a battle between Orla Leyden and Eugene Murphy, but my information is that Claire Kerrane is doing well and she could even double her vote from the last election (3,075). Aisling Dolan is also going to poll well, but her late entry into the race may well cost her in the end. She is not well enough known to take a seat.

It would almost be inconceivable that there would not be a Fianna Fail seat in this constituency and both the candidates look very strong. It is always very hard to unseat a sitting TD but on this occasion Eugene Murphy has a fight on his hands. I am going to go against the conventional wisdom and predict that Murphy will hang on by his finger nails. It will come down to transfers.
On the People this week I said that the same TD’s had never been returned in Roscommon but I was wrong. In 1982 and 1987 Sean Doherty, Terry Leyden and Liam Naughten retained their seats. I should have known not to listen to Philip Boucher Hayes and Barry Lenihan!!! (I should have have looked it up)

So my local prediction is Fitzmaurice, Naughten and Murphy with Leyden just missing out and a huge performance on the the way from Kerrane.

(Roscommon People)

Election Blog 7 – The Three Amigos Square Off

Election Blog 7

Wednesday 5th February

The Prime Time programme on Tuesday night was by far the best debate we have seen in this election campaign so far. None of the three leaders landed a knockout blow on the other although it was interesting to see the three main party leaders put under pressure by the excellent moderators Miriam O’Callaghan and David McCullogh.

So how did they do?

Micheal Martin: This was his best showing out of all the debates so far. Over recent debates he came across as cranky and bad tempered but he was assured and calm this time. He resisted the temptation to go for the Sinn Fein jugular and he concentrated on the issues. He struggled on a couple of matters including possible Government partners but overall he did well.

Leo Varadkar: This was probably his most assured outing in this election campaign. When pressed he appeared calm and he never got into a major spat with the others. However he appeared to be on the back foot on a number issues such as housing and health which was not unexpected.

Mary Lou McDonald: Was caught off-guard and struggled with the Special Criminal Court issue and was also on the back-foot on the Paul Quinn murder story as well. However she was able to take pot shots at the two major parties and she largely stayed out of trouble. I have a feeling that the legacy issues that would bother many older voters who can remember the troubles will not affect the younger generation who seem to have flocked to Sinn Fein this time.

There are only three days to go to the election and there are sure to be surprises on the day. There will be a surge of support for Sinn Fein and The Greens to a lesser extent and Fine Gael look like they will lose seats and Fianna Fail will gain some.

The fun will start when they try to form a Government.

It’s the biggest cliché in the book but…. it’s all to play for.

More soon.

Election Blog 6 – Sinn Fein Surge Now A Factor

Election Blog 6

Tuesday 4th February

We knew the dynamic would change during the election campaign and it has. It was clear from day one that Fine Gael were going to lose some seats and that Fianna Fail were going to gain some. It was also clear that the Greens were going to win a number of seats given the climate change emergency that we are experiencing.

But what was unexpected is the huge surge in support for Sinn Fein. In fact the way the polls are going the party may not have enough candidates running in this election such is the support they are gaining with every passing day.

Mary Lou McDonald’s party are now the most popular party among young people who want to see change. The legacy issues that many people of an older generation would have with Sinn Fein are not an issue with the younger set. Remember that the Good Friday Agreement is over 20 years old and there are a lot of young people for whom the troubles were not a factor as they were growing up. They see Sinn Fein as an alternative to Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. The Greens are set to make gains too so the two big parties are set for a shock with Sinn Fein now a real threat.

The situation in Tipperary is very interesting. The people there will not be voting for a few weeks after everyone else and while that means that there cannot be any Government formed until every seat has been filled, it leaves the electorate in Tipperary in a very interesting position.

They will go to the polls knowing the result of the election for the most part, and that is sure to affect the way they cast their votes. It will certainly mean a different result there than would have been the case if they had voted along with everyone else. But the law is the law and that’s the way it has to be. But it’s another variable that adds to the intrigue.

With four days to go and with the latest debate on later tonight it’s shaping up to be a very interesting election indeed.

More tomorrow night after the debate.

Election Blog 5 – Virgin Media TV Debate A Farce

Election Blog 5

Friday 31st January

I had intended this to be an update as to who seemed to be ahead in the campaign in terms of performance after the Leaders Debate on Virgin Media TV on Thursday night, but the programme was a farce ruined by the two so called moderators and Ivan Yates in particular.

It was one of the most unprofessional performances by any current affairs presenter that I have seen in 35 years of writing and broadcasting about elections.

I have fought tooth and nail with politicians of all parties and none over the years and many a serious row I have had with them, but they have all been elected by the people and deserve respect which was not shown to them by Ivan Yates in particular last night. At one stage last night Leo Varadkar was interrupted three times by one or both presenters in the space in 30 seconds.

None of the politicians were allowed to finish any point they were making as Yates and Cooper shouted, badgered, and insulted them. I was looking forward to the debate but instead I grew more frustrated as it went on. God only knows what those being interviewed felt like.

The debate only went to underline how far ahead the likes of Clare Byrne and David McCullogh are of the ‘Tonight Show’ pair in terms of professionalism and decorum.
I wasn’t surprised with Yates but I was with Cooper who is a competent and experienced operator but there is no telling what happens to a person when ego takes over.

For what it was worth Micheal Martin seemed to be eager to get stuck into Sinn Fein and Mary Lou McDonald while Leo Varadkar kept out of the major spats for the most part. It would appear that the main parties are now looking on Sinn Fein as a major threat. Whether that becomes a reality remains to be seen. Eamon Ryan was shouted down so many times that it became tiresome. He is too nice a man for a bar-room brawl which is what this was.

Brendan Howlin did well and was probably interrupted the least of all the participants. Mick Barry and Catherine Murphy were largely anonymous.
But this programme was all about Yates and Cooper to a lesser extent, and that’s sad. Roll on next weeks’ debate and a return to more normal political interviewing.

Election Blog 4- Castlerea Hosts Excellent Prime Time Election Programme

Election Blog 4

Wednesday 29th January

It’s just as well that the election has only just over a week to run as there is so much hype about it especially on the national media that people are already suffering from ‘election overkill’ with every word analysed to within an inch of it’s life.

I didn’t know what to expect from the Prime Time programme that was broadcast live from Castlerea on Tuesday night but it was probably the best election programme that has been aired so far. The opening report featured several well known local people from a number of different walks of life who spoke so well abpout the problems facing us in this county.

The live debate at the beautiful Arts Centre in the town was lively and covered a lot of the issues that are important to people who live in our county. However when it was over I was more convinced than ever that rural Ireland is in deep trouble. There were stories of long commutes to work, no young people in rural areas, pubs closing down and businesses and houses vacant while the east coast of the country is bursting at the seams.

Breege Callaghan spoke very well about rural isolation and the fact that there are many people in our county who will be lucky if they see any other human being from one day to the next. The absence of public transport in rural areas was also major issue.

But most serious of all were the people, particularly the elderly, who are now so scared and reluctant to go to a hospital if they are sick, that their illness is much more serious when they present at a hospital. They are reading and hearing of the trolley crisis and the long waits and it is putting them off seeking medical help which is a very sad situation. Speaker after speaker said that if there even some jobs in the county to try to keep at least some young people at home it would be at least something.

The plight of farmers was also highlighted. Former Roscommon All-Star footballer and manager of the Elphin Mart Gerry Connellan spoke very well about how people in rural Ireland and farmers in particular are being treated.

The big question is now- Is it too late? Are counties like Roscommon becoming resigned to being a place for the very young and. the very old ? I certainly hope not. I was born bred and reared in this county and have lived here most of my life. We deserve as good an economic future as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. Whether the political will or the political capability is there remains to be seen.

Election Blog 3- Where Are We With Ten Days To Go?

Tuesday 28th January

Election Blog 3

There are 10 days of campaigning to go yet and to be honest it has pretty uninspiring stuff so far. So where are the main parties as we have a circuit to go as it were in the race to Leinster House?

Fine Gael: It would appear that the party are losing support although Leo Varadkar did well in the debate on Monday night. The problems that they have had with regard and to Housing and Health are overshadowing the success that they have had with regard to Brexit and Northern Ireland. At this stage are poised to lose 6 to 8 seats and will end up behind Fianna Fail.

Fianna Fail: It looks likely that the party are set for a gain of about 10 seats. But they are vulnerable to accusations of being the party that bankrupted the country by the others. Micheal Martin has bided his time and now he has a chance to become Taoiseach. But there is a nagging feeling that he has made a mistake being too adamant that he will not go into Government with Fine Gael or Sinn Fein. That could mean that Fianna Fail could be the biggest party after the poll but still might end up in opposition.

Sinn Fein: There is a lot of snobbery about the electoral chances of Sinn Fein who are set for their best election in many decades. Of course there are legacy issues that Mary Lou McDonald and her party cannot escape, and persistent accusations that the Ard Comhlaire are running the party are not helping their cause. That having being said I have a feeling that they will increase their seat haul by four or five and will end up with 27 or 28. It will put them in a very strong position when it comes to the formation of a Government.

The Greens: The climate emergency means that the wind is at the backs of the party and they are set to increase their seat numbers from 2 to 8 or even 10. They are unlikely to take too many seats in rural Ireland but they will make gains in urban areas and that will put them in a strong position in any coalition talks.

Labour: I felt sorry for Brendan Howlin in the debate on Monday night. He argued passionately but you got the feeling that he was ’yesterday’s man’ and he and Roisin Shortall sounded exactly the same when it came to policies. It looks like Sinn Fein have stolen the clothes of Labour when it comes to the centre/left.

Social Democrats: Unlikely to make any major gains as, in common with the Labour Party, they are in a very crowded centre-left place.

AAA/PPP: There are six outgoing TD’s here and there is certainly a ‘far left’ constituency out there for the likes of Paul Murphy and Ruth Coppinger but it’s confined to urban areas and Dublin in particular.

The Others: There are 23 Independents of various hues and there may be a few casualties here but the likes of the Healy/Rae’s, Michael Fitzmaurice, Boxer Moran, Dennis Naughten, Michael Lowry and Mattie McGrath will be back again.

We will have a go at a prediction next week.

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