Labour wins Dublin byelection


Labour councillor and bookies’ favourite Patrick Nulty was finally declared the winner in the Dublin West byelection at 2.45am after a marathon count.

On hearing the announcement was carried aloft by cheering supporters who chanted “championes, championes, ole, ole, ole”.

Mr Nulty was elected on the fifth and final count with 17,636 votes, just 216 short of the quota while Fianna Fáil councillor David McGuinness finished with 11,590 votes after the counting of transfers from Socialist party councillor Ruth Coppinger.

In his acceptance speech Mr Nulty reminded those present that the byelection “was prompted by the passing of Brian Lenihan who is remembered with great fondness”.

He said “I humbly thank the people of Dublin West and Swords” for “giving us their trust” and added: “I intend to honour that trust every day I serve the people”.

Mr Nulty’s victory was inevitable from early tallies yesterday morning but the final result was delayed by almost seven hours when the Socialist party called for a recount after the fourth count.

Socialist Cllr Ruth Coppinger, a secondary school teacher, was just 18 votes behind Fianna Fáil Cllr David McGuinness, a part-time music teacher, when she was eliminated and challenged the result.

A recount showed mistakes in voting transfers and Ms Coppinger clawed back 26 more votes while Mr McGuinness gained eight, tying them on 9,873 votes.

After lengthy wrangling into the early hours, Socialist Part TD Joe Higgins said they would accept a joint second with Fianna Fáil “and finish the count now” rather than returning later today, after acknowledging that neither Fianna Fáil nor the Socialists could overtake Cllr Nulty and win on transfers.

Returning officer John Fitzpatrick said there had been a “dead heat” and “equality of votes” between the two candidates after the fourth count.

He had decided to eliminate Cllr Coppinger under section 122 of the Electoral Act. This provides for the candidate with the highest number of first preference votes to go through. Cllr McGuinness was 200 votes ahead of Ms Coppinger after the first count.

It was a prestige row over who would come second in the byelection to Cllr Nulty, a housing policy analyst for Focus Ireland. He was unstoppable with more than 3,000 votes clear of the next two candidates on the fourth count.

But Cllr Coppinger earlier last night refused to even concede she could not win the election and insisted it was still "all to play for". The final result she said was a “far from ringing endorsement” of Labour while Fine Gael had “obviously imploded”.

The 18 votes that divided Cllrs McGuinness and Coppinger followed the elimination of Fine Gael candidate, Cllr Eithne Loftus.

On the first original count Cllr Loftus 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, Cllr 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, having 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 added: "We had a convention and he went to convention and most of the members voted for Eithne. So it’s similar to the convention we had for the presidency that the members decided."

Cllr 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 Social Protection Minister Joan Burton polled a combined 29 per cent of the vote.

The 28-year-old opposed Labour’s move into coalition Government with Fine Gael. Asked about it yesterday, he said: "I’m very pleased with the result the Labour party has got in this election. I’ve said all through this campaign I intend to be a principled but constructive voice within the Labour parliamentary party."

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", after the drubbing the party got in the general election.

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 Labour’s ratings since the February election. He paid tribute to Ms Burton for the campaign.

She said they had carried out an "old fashioned" door-to-door campaign talking to candidates, including some "difficult conversations" about the decisions Government had to make.

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.

Thirteen candidates stood for election in the poll which follows the death of former Fianna Fáil minister for finance Brian Lenihan.

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