Mullen defeats Ryan for final NUI Seanad seat


In a sensational upset, first-time candidate Rónán Mullen took the third seat in the NUI Seanad election, defeating outgoing Labour senator Brendan Ryan by 706 votes in the 21st and final count.

After a dramatic, marathon count and recount, the three seats on the NUI panel were decided on the last count when the votes of Dr Valerie Bresnihan were distributed, bringing outgoing Senator Joe O'Toole above the quota and electing him first, followed by Senator Feargal Quinn and Mr Mullen.

The 36-year-old barrister, columnist and lecturer from Ahascragh, Co Galway, got the second highest number of first preference votes after Senator O'Toole and remained in second place until the final and dramatic 21st count, when Dr Bresnihan's transfers moved Senator Quinn into second place.

Dr Bresnihan, a social and human rights researcher, had earlier in the day conceded defeat, having called for a recount the previous evening when just 34 votes separated her and Mr Ryan. Until the last count Mr Ryan remained in contention in a very closely fought election. He had hoped for more transfers from Dr Bresnihan but more (1,415) went to Senator Quinn and the 1,351 votes he did receive were not enough to catch up with Mr Mullen.

The new Senator, a former press officer with the Archdiocese of Dublin and a columnist with the Irish Daily Mail, is a director of Ceist, a trust organisation involved in the governance of 100 schools of the Holy Rosary, Mercy and Presentation Orders.

He ran a 10-month campaign, with a "kitchen cabinet" of key advisers and 500 to 1,000 volunteers around the country, targeting teachers, his home base in Galway and Irish-language NUI graduates, of whom there are about 1,200.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Mullen attributed his success to the winning transfers.

A campaigner for Prof William Binchy when he stood for the Seanad, the new Senator said that "I live with the memory of the great first preference votes William received then not getting the transfers to be elected".

Against expectations, Mr Mullen, a candidate who campaigned on family and community issues, garnered transfers from across the field.

At the count his supporters included his parents, sister, nephew, his cousin Michael (a Fine Gael councillor), and Prof Binchy.

In a speech after he was elected, Senator Mullen said "what we've achieved is we have found a new way to talk about certain values in Irish life and those values have resonated with people and those values are respect for the dignity of the person and respect for life itself at all stages and in all situations".

Defeated candidate Brendan Ryan in his speech said that he too had a vision of society and he attributed "the same rights to people who have different values from me".

He said the obligation to tolerance "applies to the liberals, and the progressives and the secularists" and "to people who hold quite different views". Mr Ryan said he would "never advocate the power of the State to ensure that my view of how Ireland should be organised would be imposed on other people".