THE Laois/Offaly constituency count for GE11 began in February and ended in March!
And it was a veritable roller-coaster ride of contrasting emotions at the former World of Wonder premises in Tullamore Retail Park where a marathon count that got underway on Saturday at 9am, concluded 65 hours later in the wee hours of Tuesday.
By Alan Walsh
For the first time in fifty years Fine Gael occupied the top two positions - poll topper Charlie Flanagan, with 10,443 first preferences, was eventually elected on the 8th Count and Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy who passed the 12,360 quota on the 13th and final count.
“It is like old times in Laois/Offaly with a Flanagan topping the poll,” he smiled. But he admitted that there is a huge burden of work facing FG in the weeks ahead as they form Government and set about tackling the recession.
Flanagan added, “As Captain of the Fine Gael team in Laois/Offaly I would have liked if we won three seats.” And on the possibility of him being appointed to a Ministerial role, he replied, “That is up to Enda Kenny but I doubt if he is going to ask for my advice,” an obvious reference to his involvement in the internal heave against Kenny last year.
“People have rejected the Fianna Fáil way. And for Fine Gael to implement our five point plan in the current circumstances it is a heavy burden on us all,” said Flanagan.
He said Liam Quinn, who demanded the dreaded and prolonged recount, will secure a Dáil seat in the future and he paid tribute to his Laois running mate John Moran .
Corcoran-Kennedy is Laois/Offaly’s second ever lady TD - following in the footsteps of party colleague Olwyn Enright (first elected in ‘02) who stepped down at this election. The strains of ‘Olé, Olé’ rang loud as her supporters raised her shoulder high.
She said she was absolutely thrilled to receive the endorsement of the people of Laois/Offaly and she heaped praise on her campaign manager Padraig Horan and her canvass manager Oonagh Ryan.
Corcoran-Kennedy, in a striking blue jacket, ‘is looking forward to playing her part in turning things around in this country’ and she poignantly dedicated her success to her late parents Kathleen and Bernard, and to her grand-father who contested two elections unsuccessfully.
Barry Cowen crossed the line without reaching the magical quota and chants of ‘Úibh Fháile, Úibh Fháile’ were bleated out by his followers as Verona Lambe declared him a TD, taking over the reins from his older brother Brian. He said the much criticised count had been “meticulous and done with respect to electorate.”
He wished former TD Olwyn Enright ‘every success in her new life’ and then he paid tribute to ‘one of the finest exponents of public representation this constituency have ever seen’, his brother Brian, the country’s 12th Taoiseach. “The decisions taken by Brian Cowen and his Government were in the best interests of the country, not FF. We are three quarters of the way towards recovery and we’ll be putting the pressure on the new Government to complete the task.”
Following a visit from Sinn Féin Vice President Mary Lou McDonald, the loyal canvassers of Brian Stanley were cock-a-hoop and when their man, who garnered 8,039 first preference votes, was deemed elected on the 13th Count they raised the roof and broke into song.
We were treated to ‘A Nation Once Again’ and ‘We’re on the Road’ as Stanley became SF’s first TD in Laois/Offaly since 1923. He convened an impromptu pep-talk conference with his well wishers huddled around him and he outlined the historical significance of his triumph. “It is a huge honour that the people have put their trust in me,” outlined a very humble Stanley. He thanked his family members and canvassers, which included Tullamore Town Councillor Brendan Killeavy.
During the 2007 GE, Laois/Offaly elected three FF and two FG TD’s to the 30th Dáil. FG failed to capture a hat-trick of the five seats up for grabs on this occasion, holding what they have even though their percentage vote increased significantly. FF lost a seat to SF but the last of the candidates elected Castletown’s Sean Fleming hailed their double triumph as a major success considering the national pattern. “We are extremely grateful that Laois/Offaly has returned two FF TD’s especially when things are so difficult economically. We are humbled by the result. It has been a difficult election for FF, we will go away and lsiten and we will build a party for the future and come back stronger.”
Fleming added, “Genuinely this is tainted with sadness tonight because of John Moloney failing to secure election. But for his transfers, myself and Barry Cowen wouldn’t have made it.” He proposed three cheers for Moloney and said he’d a pain in his stomach when he realised the fate of his Laois colleague.
Outgoing Junior Minister Moloney, in a dignified speech, said he was departing the political stage but intended to keep working with FF and rebuilding for future and will not be contesting future elections. “FF have delivered a lot. I leave this centre disappointed, but satisfied.”
Labour’s JohnWhelan went all the way to the final shake-up and he said, “It is clear that Labour is a force to be reckoned with in Laois/Offaly and has great potential to develop and organise to win numerous Council seats in the next local elections and to take a Dail seat in the next general election. I look forward with enthusiasm to that opportunity and challenge.”
Independents John Foley and John Leahy endured early exits despite polling quite strongly, and the recount sought by FG’s Liam Quinn resulted in much prolonged frustration.
An Taoiseach Brian Cowen was one of the last people to leave the count centre after 2am on Tuesday morning and it was an emotional exit for him too. On Wednesday week he’ll hand over the reins of power to Enda Kenny.
A new era for Cowen. A new era for us all.
And the roller-coaster continues!