Labour leads byelection count

 

Labour candidate Patrick Nulty topped the poll in the Dublin West byelection in the first count and is on target to win the seat.

Socialist and United Left Alliance TD Joe Higgins called for a full recount after his party colleague Cllr Ruth Coppinger was eliminated on the fourth count just 18 votes behind second-placed Fianna Fáil councillor and part-time music teacher David McGuinness.

It was a prestige row over who would come second in the byelection to Mr Nulty, a housing policy analyst for Focus Ireland and unstoppable with more than 3,000 votes clear of the next two candidates on the fourth count. But Ms Coppinger, a secondary school teacher, refused to concede she could not win and insisted it was still “all to play for”.

The 18 votes that divided the candidates followed the elimination of Fine Gael’s Cllr Eithne Loftus. On the first count she trailed in a very disappointing fourth position with 5,263 votes or just under 15 per cent of the vote.

Despite almost 40 per cent in her own area of Castleknock where she has been a Fine Gael member for more than 30 years and 25 per cent in her electoral area, Ms Loftus (68), could not get the necessary votes in other wards.

There was some surprise that Kieran Dennison, who polled a respectable 3,190 first preferences for the party in the general election, did not run in the byelection with wider constituency recognition than Ms Loftus. Fine Gael Dublin West TD and Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar rejected claims that he had used his influence to have a byelection candidate who would be no threat to him at the next general election.

“I can absolutely understand why people believe that but it’s absolutely not true and you’re welcome to ask Kieran. I did the same as Enda Kenny did in the presidency. I stayed out of it and I allowed people to make up their own mind," he said.

“We had a convention and he went to convention and most of the members voted for Eithne.”

Mr Nulty, who nearly died in a house fire as a two-year-old and has scarring as a result, came fifth in the four-seat constituency in February’s election when he and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton polled a combined 29 per cent of the vote. Fianna Fáil was ebullient with the second placing at the first count of their candidate. One senior party member said “we’re not breaking out the champagne yet but we are back in the game”.

The candidate himself said: “What we are heartened by is that 22 per cent of the vote is ours and ours alone and we don’t need to share it with anyone in the future. Fianna Fáil are fighting across this country and the fight starts now.” Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore described the byelection as a “fabulous result” for Labour, despite a 4 per cent drop in the party’s ratings since the general election.

Sinn Féin candidate Paul Donnelly polled 3,173 first preferences, 9 per cent of the vote up almost 3 per cent on his general election outing while the Green Party’s Roderic O’Gorman also improved his standing from 1.42 per cent in February to 5 per cent in the byelection which follows the death of former Fianna Fáil minister for finance Brian Lenihan.

Labour’s victory is the first for a government party in a byelection since Fianna Fáil candidate Noel Treacy’s win in Galway East in 1982.