McEntee elected in Meath East byelection as Labour vote collapses

Daughter of late TD reaches 11,473 votes after third and final count


Fine Gael’s Helen McEntee has taken the seat vacated in the constituency of Meath East by the death of her father Shane in December.

On the third and final count, FF's Thomas Byrne got 1,476 votes to bring him to 9,582 and Ms McEntee 1,926 to get to 11,473, enough to get her elected.

On second count, Ms McEntee had gained 191 votes to reach 9,547 and FF's Thomas Byrne 104 to 8,106.

First count results were announced just before 4pm.

Ms McEntee received 9,356 first preference votes, Thomas Byrne (FF) 8,002, Darren O’Rourke (SF) 3,165, Ben Gilroy (DDI) 1,568, and Eoin Holmes (Lab) 1,112.

Candidates excluded were Independent Charlie Keddy (110); Independent Mick Martin (190); Workers Party’s Seamus McDonagh (263); Independent Gerard Michael O'Brien (73); Ind Jim Tallon (47) and Green Party’s Sean Ó Buachalla (423).

Some laughter greeted the announcement of Labour candidate Eoin Holmes’s 1,112 first preferences.

The total electorate was 64,164 while the total number votes cast was 24, 568. There were 259 spoiled or invalid votes, while the quota for election is 12,155. Turnout was just over 38 per cent.

Ms McEntee has lead since counting began this morning, while the collapse of the Labour vote has also been apparent since this morning.

Labour topped the poll in Meath East in 2011, with its candidate Dominic Hannigan receiving 8,994 first preference votes (more than 21 per cent of the total), compared to Mr Holmes 4.5 per cent today.

Minister for Communications and Labour TD Pat Rabbitte reacted to the party’s very poor showing in the polls earlier.

It seemed that Labour has “taken the brunt of the negative reaction”, he said. “Labour voters didn't come out. They are making a protest. We have to listen to what they're saying, but we inherited the biggest mess left to a government since 1922,” he told RTÉ radio.Fine Gael TD Damien English told RTÉ Ms McEntee “put in a great campaign. In areas that weren't McEntee strongholds, she went out and got votes. It's a major plus for the McEntee family and the Fine Gael family.”

Strong performance

On the strong performance for Mr Byrne, Fianna Fáil TD Daragh O’Brien said: “This was not just a local vote. We ran a constructive and positive campaign. It's not about Fianna Fáil getting back into Government. But there was a lesson for Labour here - that you can't promise the sun, moon and stars and then break every promise.”

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said he did not think Fine Gael could “take succour” from the vote, given the circumstances in which the byelection took place.

The result had been brought about through the death of former minister of state Shane McEntee, he said.

“We’re very, very, very satisfied with the vote that we took. This is the largest vote that we have ever taken in this constituency,” Mr Adams said.

He complained about the media presenting the byelection as a “two horse race” between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

“We are the third party in this election. We came from a standing start. We introduced a person who no one outside of our own ranks knew. We fought a three-week campaign. We increased our vote by a very, very substantial amount and we’re going to continue to build on that.”

The Sinn Féin candidate, Darren O’Rourke, said he was committed to the constituency of Meath East and was looking forward to building on what had been achieved.

Party deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “We're content this is another staging post for us in Meath East. The entire narrative around this campaign was it was a two-horse race, and people listened to that. I have a sense a good chunk of Labour vote didn't come out at all. Some of it came to us.”

Looking to secure fourth place ahead of Labour is Ben Gilroy of new party Direct Democracy Ireland, who is performing better than anticipated.

Mr Gilroy said it was an “extraordinary” result. “We are doing extremely well because most people never even heard of us... we are the dark horse,” he told RTÉ radio. “This was a recruitment opportunity for us, so every cloud has a silver lining,” he said.

Counting got under way at about 9am.

Unseasonal weather

Heavy snowfalls and unseasonally cold weather contributed to a low turnout for the byelection.

As polling stations closed at 9pm last night, some sources predicted the turnout would not be much more than 30 per cent. Fine Gael sources said the figure might be a little higher, closer to 40 per cent.

The last comparable election was the byelection held in the former constituency of Meath in 1995, where turnout was 41 per cent. That election was won by Shane McEntee, whose death last December created the vacancy in the three-seat constituency.

While voting levels for this byelection were not expected to be high, the overnight falls of snow which left some roads in the country in a hazardous condition led to exceptionally low turnout in the first two to three hours of polling. By mid-afternoon the weather had brightened, but polling stations were still reporting turnouts of 15 per cent cent or lower.

The low turnout means parties will be relying on their core vote. Ms McEntee and Mr Byrne are joint favourites with bookmakers.

First Count Results:

Thomas Byrne (Fianna Fáil) - 8,002

Ben Gilroy (Direct Democracy Ireland) - 1,568

Eoin Holmes (Labour) - 1,112

Charlie Keddy (Independent) - 110

Mick Martin (Indepe7ndent) - 190

Séamus McDonagh (Workers’ Party) - 263

Helen McEntee (Fine Gael) - 9,356

Gearóid O’Brien (Independent) - 73

Sean O Buachalla (Greens ) - 423

Darren O’Rourke (Sinn Féin) - 3,165

Jim Tallon (Independent) - 47