FG victory in Meath East byelection prompts tension as Labour slumps
Taoiseach Enda Kenny congratulates Helen McEntee, on being elected as a TD, taking her fathers seat in the Meath East byelection, as her mother Katlhleen (Centre) watches at the count centre in Donaghmore, Ashbourne. Photograph: Alan Betson
There was a considerable level of shock among members of the Labour parliamentary party at the outcome of the byelection in which the party’s candidate, Eoin Holmes, won less than 5 per cent of the vote. This compared to the 21 per cent taken by Labour in the constituency in the 2011 general election.
In contrast to Labour, Fianna Fáil enjoyed an encouraging result, with 32.5 per cent of the vote, far better than its 19 per cent showing in 2011.
One Labour Minister of State privately told colleagues yesterday that he had lost confidence in Eamon Gilmore’s leadership. Another TD, a backbencher who has been critical of the leader in the past, said the same mistakes had been made in the byelection that had been made in the general election.
“The people who devised the silly Tesco ad in the general election came up with a stupid leaflet insulting Enda Kenny in the final days of this campaign. The only conclusion is that there has to be a change of personnel if we are to have any chance of recovering,” said the Labour TD, who did not wish to be named.
The Labour leaflet, circulated on the final day of the campaign, portrayed Enda Kenny as being in the same category as Bertie Ahern and Gerry Adams. It provoked serious annoyance among Fine Gael Ministers.
Some Labour members of the Cabinet were also taken aback at the tone of the leaflet, which appeared to denigrate the Taoiseach and Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.
“This was a juvenile response to a difficult situation which was created by the very same people in the Labour Party who tried to fight this byelection on issues like gay marriage rather than the economy,” said the backbench TD.
Mr Kenny last night described Helen McEntee’s victory as a “stupendous performance in the face of probably the most difficult economic circumstances our country has ever faced”.
Speaking at the count centre in Ashbourne, Mr Kenny said he had never seen a byelection taking place in such challenging circumstances. The byelection was brought about by the death of Ms McEntee’s father, Shane McEntee, last December.
“To say I am delighted is an understatement. I really am proud of what Helen McEntee has achieved here . . . This is a vote by the people of Meath East but this is not just a vote in respect of her late dad, Shane McEntee,” Mr Kenny said. He described Ms McEntee as a formidable candidate in her own right.
Ms McEntee described her victory as “bittersweet” after she secured 9,356 first-preference votes, ending up with a total of 11,473 after transfers had been distributed.
“You had faith in Dad and I’m just absolutely delighted you had faith in me . . . and if I’m half the TD that he was I’ll be happy,” she said.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin paid tribute to Ms McEntee and the McEntee family.
He said the people of Meath East had given very strong messages on the doorstep on property tax and child benefit cuts.