FF wins in Dublin and is on brink in Donegal

 

FIANNA FAIL has pulled off a most extraordinary victory in the Dublin West by election and stands on the brink of a second victory in Donegal North-East, to be confirmed by a recount today, aided in both constituencies by vote transfers from its traditional opponents, Fine Gael.

The election of Mr Brian Lenihan in Dublin West marks the first by election victory for the party in 12 years and in the running for the first by election double for over 20 years.

The Fianna Fail leader, Mr Bertie Ahern, whose vote pulling reputation was staked on the results, told The Irish Times last night: "It is a sweet night for us."

The two results were so dependent on final transfers that prominent Fianna Fail frontbenchers roamed the corridors of Leinster House scarcely believing that they could be the victors. Most of them had conceded defeat when the first count tallies came in at lunchtime.

The overall polls, however, delivered a sombre message to all the establishment parties. The result in Dublin West was a disaster for the Labour Party, which polled under 4 per cent in that constituency.

Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats secured 72 per cent of the vote in Dublin West in the last general election in 1992, compared to 46 per cent yesterday. Mr Harry Blaney doubled the Independent Fianna Fail vote in Donegal North East.

The collapse of the Labour Party's vote was the most striking feature of the outcome in Dublin West. Notwithstanding the low 44 per cent turn out, the party's vote dropped by almost 19 points - from 22.6 per cent to 3.7 per cent. The Fianna Fail vote tell by almost 7 points and the Fine Gael vote by one point. The PD vote increased by 0.6 per cent.

The Fianna Fail and Fine Gael votes dropped by 4.5 points and 3.7 points, respectively, in Donegal North East. The Labour vote increased, much less than expected, by a single point.

The Sinn Fein vote increased by a dramatic 5 per cent in Donegal North East, where the party's vice president, Mr Pat Doherty, was its candidate. The Sinn Fein vote rose by 2.7 per cent in Dublin West on the party's first electoral since the ending of the IRA.

The leading challengers to Fianna Fail for the two seats, with hugely increased first preference votes were Mr Joe Higgins, of Militant Labour, standing as an Independent candidate in Dublin West, and Mr Harry Blaney, brother of the former TD, Mr Neil, Blaney, in his Donegal fiefdom.

Mr Lenihan, who held his late father's seat, won a disappointing 6,995 first preference votes, 252 ahead of his closest rival, Mr Higgins. He won the seat on the 11th count by securing an unprecedented rate of vote transfers from all other parties and candidates.

With the elimination of the former leader of the Workers' Party, Mr Tomas Mac Giolla, on the tenth count, Mr Higgins went 140 votes ahead of Mr Lenihan for the first time. However, the subsequent elimination of the Fine Gael candidate, Mr Tom Morrissey, gave Mr Lenihan victory.

The counts were even more nail biting in the Blaney heartland in Donegal. A full recount was called for after Fianna Fail's Ms Cecilia Keaveney and Mr Blaney had 11,456 votes each after the distribution of Senator Sean Maloney's Labour vote on the third count. Then, following a recount of Senator Maloney's transfers, Mr Blaney went one vote ahead, with 11,456 to Ms Keaveney's 11,455. The Fine Gael candidate, Mr Jim Sheridan, was eliminated next. His transfers gave Ms Keaveney a victory margin of 1,025 votes, subject to a full recount later today. The recount is being held at the request of Mr Blaney, who has not ruled out a legal challenge if he is not satisfied.

For most of the day Fianna Fail front benchers were writing off their chances. Faced with the seeming prospect of losing seven by elections in a row in this Dail, a key party adviser called for a revised electoral strategy for next year's general election.

"No courtship with Mary Harney will put us into the next government", he stated, in mild panic. "We must have Labour. We shouldn't have been so tough on them with the Stokes motion."

Mr Lenihan's election is the first by election victory for Fianna Fail since 1984, when the former Minister, Mr Brian Cowen, won his late father's seat in Laois Offaly.