FG's Lee 'humbled' by landslide byelection win

Sat, Jun 6, 2009, 01:00

Fine Gael's George Lee has stormed home in the Dublin South byelection, vindicating the party's choice of the former RTÉ journalist as a candidate.

Mr Lee earned 27,768 first preference votes, passing the quota on the first count with more than 1,749 votes to spare. Labour's Alex White came in second with 10,294 first preferences, followed by Fianna Fáil's Shay Brennan, who gained 9,250 votes after the first count.

Mr Lee arrived at the RDS count centre shortly before 2.30pm with party leader Enda Kenny. Mr Kenny hailed a "truly spectacular victory" on what he described as an “historic day” for the party. He said it was “the largest vote in the history of our party” and said that it indicated “people demand change, people need change”.

“There is no time to be lost no time to be wasted to give affect to that change,” he said. “This Government can not ignore the will of the people and can not ignore this message. “

Mr Lee said he felt "absolutely delighted and humbled" by his election victory, which was to be confirmed at a 2.30pm declaration.

“I’m looking forward to representing them speaking up on their behalf, holding the Government to account, bringing in a new era of what I have been describing as…a new era of responsibility," Mr Lee said.

“As far as I am concerned there will be a change of govt, it’s only a question of time."

From an early stage, tallies in Dublin South indicated  that Mr Lee is polling well over 50 per cent and some even put his first preference vote as high at 60 per cent.

The last time a candidate won a byelection on a first count was in 1984 in Laois Offaly, when Taoiseach Brian Cowen was elected a TD. Speaking after tallies pointed to a George Lee victory, Fianna Fáil's Shay Brennan said: “Evidently it’s a landslide, we can see that. Obviously a lot of people gave straight number ones for George Lee.  In my mind it was very much a protest vote,” he added.

Mr Lee has always been the front-runner to replace the late TD Seamus Brennan with competition from Mr Brennan's son Shay and Labour’s Senator Alex White.

Meanwhile, an exit poll on the local elections provided a source of some comfort to Fianna Fáil who stood at 24 per cent, in second place behind Fine Gael at 34 per cent but crucially ahead of Labour who polled 17 per cent, with Sinn Fein at 9 per cent.

The Greens were at 3 per cent and Others at 13 per cent, according to the exit poll. Ahead of election day, some forecasts had suggested the main Government party could find itself in third place.

The exit poll, by Lansdowne Market Research, was carried out on behalf of RTÉ and the Sunday Independent. Over 3,300 people were interviewed and the margin of error was 1.7 per cent.

The Fianna Fáil figure of 24 per cent is eight points down on the last local elections in 2004. Fine Gael is on 34 per cent, 6.5 per cent ahead of 2004, while Labour goes up five and a half points to 17 per cent.

Counting for the two Dáil byelections got under way at 9am at the same time as counting of votes for 1,627 councillors in 114 local councils.

The overall turnout for the elections could exceed the 59 per cent level of the 2004 elections, according to the main political parties last night.

In the Dublin South byelection, however, the 57 per cent turnout, confirmed late last night by returning officer John Fitzpatrick, was much lower than the last general election which almost touched 69 per cent.

The turnout in Dromahair, Co Leitrim looks set to be up to 90 per cent, the highest in the country.

Counting of votes for the European elections will not commence until 9am tomorrow, although tallies will be possible today while the ballot papers are sorted. The result for the four European constituencies will be held back until 9pm tomorrow to coincide with results in the other 26 EU Member States. The number of MEPs is being reduced from 13 to 12 compared to five years ago. The current breakdown of seats is Fine Gael (5); Fianna Fáil (4); Labour (1); Sinn Féin (1); Independents (2).

In 2004, Fianna Fáil won 302 of the full 883 council seats, while Fine Gael won 293. The focus today will be on whether Fine Gael can become the dominant party in local government for the first time.

The bulk of the counts for the 258 local electoral areas in the State will be completed by tonight, although the final results for a small number of polls may not be declared until tomorrow morning.

Preliminary figures obtained by the main political parties yesterday evening indicated a strong turnout in rural areas with voting levels holding up well urban areas and in the commuter belts around Dublin.