By Eoin Kelleher
ALL changed, changed utterly. History was made in South Tipperary on Saturday when for the first time since the constituency was created in 1948, no Fianna Fáil TD was returned to the Dáil.
In an emphatic 72.8% turnout, the people of South Tipperary voted for decisive change, electing Independent Socialist Seamus Healy, Fine Gael’s Tom Hayes, and Independent Mattie McGrath to the 31st Dáil.
From the early morning, when the first boxes were being opened, the first two seats looked certain to go to Hayes and Healy, with McGrath likely to take the third seat. A strong and well organised campaign by Fine Gael meant that only first-time candidate Michael Murphy came within shouting distance of McGrath, while Labour’s Phil Prendergast disappointed, coming in sixth place.
Speaking to the Tipperary Star in the morning, Martin Mansergh accepted it was the party’s worst day since its foundation by Eamonn De Valera in 1926. “But you show me another party in the democratic world, that for 80 years was consistently elected,” he said.
At around 4.20pm, the First Count confirmed Fine Gael’s Tom Hayes’ record as poll topper, with 8,896 first preference votes, though not enough to take him over the quota of 10,341.
Healy, just behind with 8,818 first preferences, and McGrath with 6,074, were followed by Martin Mansergh (5,419), Michael Murphy (5,402), and Phil Prendergast (4,525). Michael Browne (1,860), and Paul McNally (367), were eliminated on the first count, their votes mostly benefiting the other left wing candidates, Healy and Prendergast.
At 5pm, the Second Count showed Healy (9,542) edging ahead of Hayes (9,214) to take the lead for the first seat. Phil Prendergast, whose party failed to capitalise on the anti-Fianna Fáil anger in South Tipperary, was eliminated in the Second Count, her votes mostly going to Seamus Healy, Tom Hayes, and Michael Murphy.
Shortly before 6pm, Healy’s supporters mounted a huge cheer from the floor as the returning officer confirmed in the Third Count that Healy had won back the seat he lost to Martin Mansergh in 2007 by only 59 votes. Healy crossed the finishing line this time with 11,265 votes.
The seat was hard earned: as leader of the Worker’s Unemployed Action Group, Healy has campaigned vigorously for the last four years as a County Councillor, in particular positioning himself to the fore of the cause of saving Clonmel Hospital. Healy, who is part of the United Left Alliance (ULA) can also be proud in the increase of his overall vote share, by some 21.3%.
It was Fine Gael’s turn next to fill the rafters after the Fourth Count was called at 6.45pm. Tom Hayes was elected with 10,463 votes. Overall the Fine Gael vote share increased by 13.4% since the last election.
The man from Golden may be in with a chance for a senior position in government having shown Enda Kenny he is a consistently solid performer since he was first elected to the Dáil in the Tipperary South By-Election of 2001. Having topped the poll in 2002, and again 2007, Mr Hayes may be Tipperary’s best chance of a seat at Cabinet. Martin Mansergh was eliminated in the Fourth Count, his votes going mostly to Mattie McGrath.
At about 7.45pm, the fifth and final Count was announced, and, as expected, shouts of ‘Ooh, aah, Mattie McGrath’, went up from the floor. McGrath, who left Fianna Fáil just before the Election, won the final seat with 9,978 votes, benefiting by some 2,565 votes from his once party colleague Martin Mansergh. McGrath told the Tipperary Star earlier in the day that he would be willing to negotiate with Fine Gael to form a possible FG/Independent coalition, if asked to.
However, the dark horse in this election race was Clonmel County Councillor Michael Murphy, who came within 2,000 votes of beating McGrath. Murphy, who has significantly raised his profile during his campaign as Tom Hayes’ running mate, was never written off until the final count, and kept McGrath worried until the end. While he didn’t win a seat this time, the Clonmel man may well be in with a fighting chance next time round...