Fresh-minted TDs emerge from 'Group of Death'

Mon, Feb 28, 2011, 00:00

AT THE COUNT:Dún Laoghaire? Dún Weary more like – the south Dublin voters were so very tired of the incumbents, writes RÓISÍN INGLE

A SIGN on the wall of Loughlinstown Leisure Centre in south Dublin, where the Dún Laoghaire count took place over the weekend, politely requested that visitors refrain from swinging on goalposts. Mirroring the national mood, voters here thought nothing of shifting the goalposts as over the course of two long days the centre was splattered with the remains of ministers, former ministers and long-standing political dynasties.

They were tired of Barry Andrews. Fed up with Mary Hanafin. At the end of their tether with Ciarán Cuffe. Dún Laoghaire? Dún Weary more like. Now two freshly minted double-barrelled TDs seem set to breathe new life into this constituency of carnage.

By their supporters shall ye know them. Fine Gael’s glamorous newbie Mary Mitchell O’Connor waited for official word of her clear victory yesterday surrounded by a clatter of photogenic children and women, all silk scarves, knee-high boots and perfect hair. Meanwhile, Richard Boyd Barrett had a nail-biting two days waiting to see if he would take the fourth seat ahead of FF deputy leader Mary Hanafin and Labour’s Ivana Bacik. Some of his earnest-looking supporters carried Che Guevara bags and wore Lenin T-shirts.

On Saturday, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore topped the poll for the first time in his career and spent a good half hour hugging campaign staff and supporters with his delighted wife Carol Hanney, his daughter Gráinne and son Oisín. By that stage, the party was still hopeful that the Gilmore Gale might woosh Ivana to victory. As expected FG’s Seán Barrett was elected easily.

The left, meanwhile, was wide awake and crunching serious numbers. Wearing jeans and a check shirt, Boyd Barrett arrived early on Saturday and yesterday for the recount requested by Labour. “I don’t understand this protocol where the candidate sweeps in at a pre-ordained time like royalty,” said the blue-eyed People Before Profit candidate, puffing on a cigarette outside the count centre.

Mitchell O’Connor had swept in on Saturday at a pre-ordained time like royalty in a dress of eye-popping Frankie Dettori blue. “Sure, what other colour would I be wearing?” she winked.

As well as her passion for education and women’s representation in the Dáil the school principal expects to bring a lot of colour to Leinster House. “I love bright colours. Pink and red are my favourites, I was never allowed wear them as a child, my mother always put us in navy.” She opted for parent-defying purple yesterday.

The Boyd Barrett camp were less about grooming, more about vigilance. Their candidate was only ahead of Bacik by about 150 so a crack team arrived yesterday at 7.40am to make sure the doors of the leisure centre remained closed until 8am. As the day wore on they grew less paranoid and more confident of victory in what, since five seats became four, is known as the Group of Death. “In footballing terms Richard is 3-0 up and Ivana only has nine players left on the field,” said one of the Boyd Barrett camp. Soon afterwards Bacik was eliminated.

Even though Hanafin had bowed out gracefully the night before – “it would take a miracle from my guardian angel to keep my seat” she said – at one point there were rumblings about the “Female Factor” playing a part in keeping Hanafin in the game. A quick tally soon revealed that Bacik’s votes were not transferring to Hanafin in any great numbers, to the relief of some.

“It’s bad enough losing,” said an Ivana aide. “Helping Hanafin get elected would have been too much to bear.”

Boyd Barrett was joined yesterday by Joe Higgins and Clare Daly, successful colleagues from the United Left Alliance. Also watching the count closely were Boyd Barrett’s parents Valentina and David Boyd Barrett. His birth mother, actor Sinead Cusack, had made a low-key appearance at the count on Saturday afternoon.

As the returning officer declared his victory the grinning, single 43-year-old posed for photographs with his son Noah (7) and stepson Fionn (12). Behind him a scrum of delighted supporters bellowed out the gospel anthem Power to the People and chanted “Enda come off it, People Not Profit” in a triumphal celebration worthy of Sinn Féin.

Outside, there were more cheers as Boyd Barrett told reporters Leinster House had never seen anything like his movement’s brand of “people power”.

When asked, the casually dressed TD-to-be also said that the dress code in the Dáil might pose a problem for him.

“I don’t own a suit,” he revealed.

“He’d look good in a suit,” was the verdict of one female onlooker.

Better have a whip-round, Dún Weary.