Harkin tops poll and takes FG seat

 

ANALYSIS/Independent: Independent candidate Ms Marian Harkin lived up to expectations in Sligo/Leitrim, topping the poll and taking a seat from Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil comfortably held on to its two seats, but its share of the vote fell from 40.4 per cent to 39 per cent.

Sitting Leitrim Fianna Fáil TD Mr John Ellis was re-elected despite controversy over debts owed to farmers since the collapse of his family-owned meat company, but his personal vote fell by about 8 per cent.

Ms Harkin polled consistently well right across the constituency, particularly in Sligo town and environs and in north Leitrim, taking 17.5 per cent of the vote overall. But Fine Gael's Leitrim TD Mr Gerry Reynolds was most vulnerable and he lost out. The Fine Gael share of the vote fell from 36.6 per cent in 1997, when it ran three candidates, to 26.6 per cent.

The party's Sligo TD, Mr John Perry, did not do as well as predicted in opinion polls and came in some 1,700 votes behind Ms Harkin. It was a disappointing election for former Labour TD Mr Declan Bree, who lost his seat in 1997 and who saw his vote halved, down to 5 per cent.

It was also disappointing for Sinn Féin's Mr Seán MacManus, even though his share increased from 7 to 10 per cent with an extra 1,800 first preferences over 1997. He had been hoping for another 1,000 votes.

Both Mr Bree and Mr MacManus were damaged by Ms Harkin in Sligo to a greater extent than either had expected. The Fianna Fáil vote in the town held up, ensuring the election of town-based GP Dr Jimmy Devins, who replaces retired Mr Matt Brennan.

There was fierce competition between Dr Devins and south Sligo-based Mr Éamon Scanlon. But Dr Devins did enough to come in neck and neck with Mr Scanlon in the first count, and as expected got about three times as many transfers from Mr Bree and twice as many from Mr MacManus.

Ms Harkin, a maths teacher by profession, who built her reputation as a tireless campaigner for western development while chairwoman of the lobby group the Council for the West, said she couldn't wait to get her teeth into the job of TD.