David Cullinane’s historic haul leaves other Waterford candidates in limbo
Sinn Féin TD warmly embraces his biggest supporter, who forecast 20,000 first preference votes
Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane celebrates after topping the poll in Waterford with a haul of 20,569 votes. Photograph: Patrick Browne
Nobody, not even David Cullinane, had predicted that the Sinn Féin TD would get almost twice the quota and romp home with 20,569 first preference votes.
Nobody, that is, except Kathleen Byrne.
“I said he’d get 20,000,” Cullinane’s self-proclaimed number one supporter said as she arrived into the Waterford count centre, where she was greeted with a bear hug from the man himself.
“How many miles have you walked for me, Kathleen?” he asked the 72-year-old.
“About 400, I’d say, since the election was called,” she replied.
Byrne had Masses said for Cullinane every day, and went out canvassing three times a day, whatever the weather. But that’s nothing, she said.
“I’d walk six times a day for him. Go home, have a cup of tea, get off your coat, give yourself a little wash, and out again. Come back, get your dinner, and go out again,” she said tearily. “He’s a brilliant man. Outstanding for Waterford… We wanted a change, and we got it.”
Strict admission rules in place at the Waterford count centre meant a reduced group of Cullinane’s core supporters were present when he was elected with the highest first preference vote in history in the State.
Even so, there was an almighty roar as he was lifted on to their shoulders to shouts of “Up Sinn Féin”.
All eyes turned to how the distribution of Cullinane’s surplus might affect the fourth seat, a prospect which seemed to leave the other candidates in the constituency feeling a bit dejected.
Mary Butler of Fianna Fáil and Independent Matt Shanahan looked well placed to take the second and third seats.
“I’m obviously disappointed my vote isn’t as high as I’d like it to be, but that’s politics,” said Fine Gael’s Damien Geoghegan despondently.
“It’s a strange election. We’ve a candidate here with two quotas. When that happens, other candidates are going to be affected.”
Geoghegan was one of two candidates running for Fine Gael. He admitted it was possible that the party would not return a TD in Waterford this time, “But looking at the numbers, we might have enough to fill one of the last two seats.”
Which one of them that could be is “is the million dollar question”.
Geoghegan’s running mate, Cllr John Cummins, was determined to look on the bright side. He had walked 363km during the 25 days of the campaign, notched up more than 860,000 steps on his Fitbit, and lost a stone in weight.
“And I don’t think I have a stone in weight to lose,” he said.
Whatever happened, Cummins was looking to the future, and the chance “to have a couple of dinners after the election”.
“Politics can be a bit of a blood sport,” said the Green Party’s Marc O’Cathasaigh, a teacher, who also had his eye on the fourth seat, as he regarded the bundles of ballot papers accumulating in the cubbies a touch morosely.
He was a bit disappointed with his 7,500 first preference votes, “but David Cullinane’s was so large, everybody’s was a bit depressed – by about 3 or 4 per cent – on where they were hoping to be.”
Not to accuse him and Cummins of one-upmanship, but he revealed that he had actually worn a hole in a pair of shoes over the past 25 days. He later sent a picture to prove it.
Sinn Féin Cllr John Hearne – dubbed St Francis of Assisi during last year’s local elections by Miriam Lord of this parish, for his work saving the wildlife of Waterford (no, that’s not a metaphor) – was on hand to dispel any accusation of blood sports.
He revealed to The Irish Times that his rescued one-eyed hedgehog, Súil Amháin, who featured in this newspaper last year, has just acquired a running mate of his own.
“The other hedgehog has no eyes, and he’s called Súil ar Bith,” Hearne said.
He was looking forward to getting home “to watch the telly and see how happy Michael McDowell and them are” as the national results came in.
Even a blind hedgehog could see which way those results were going.