Independent TD Seán Canney topped the poll in Galway East and will enter the Dáil with Fianna Fáil newcomer Anne Rabbitte and incumbent Fine Gael TD Ciarán Cannon.
The big losers in the three seat constituency were outgoing TD Paul Connaughton for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil candidate Colm Keaveney while Labour senator Lorraine Higgins also failed to make it over the line.
Ms Rabbitte made a “biteen of history” when she became the first woman to win a seat for Fianna Fáil in Galway East. She was placed on the party ticket to fulfill the gender quota but the Portumna-based county councillor was a strong candidate and her success ahead of party colleague Colm Keaveney surprised few at the New Inn count centre.
Returning officer Derry Buckley deemed Mr Canney and Ms Rabbitte elected on the sixth count when they exceeded the quota of 11,310 with 12,707 votes and 12,255 votes respectively. Mr Cannon was elected on the seventh count, without reaching the quota, on a total of 10,157 votes.
The boundaries of the redrawn constituency were criticised by winning as well as losing candidates with Mr Cannon saying they disenfranchised certain voters and Mr Keaveney saying they amounted to gerrymandering.The new-look arrangement was particularly unkind to Mr Connaughton who saw a large chunk of his support base around Ballinasloe parcelled into the new Roscommon Galway constituency.
Mr Connaughton said “I’m disappointed to lose my seat but that’s politics”. He said he would now step away from political life, at least for the short term, adding that he would not seek election to the Seanad and would probably not contest another general election if one were called within the next few months.
Ms Rabbitte said it was “aspirational” of her to have sought the Fianna Fáil nomination as a woman but added that the issue of the gender quota neither helped nor hindered her campaign.
“The gender quota played no part. I am sitting in a comfortable position and looking to take a seat so at this moment in time there’s a woman about to land herself in east Galway, creating a little biteen of history, and privileged to do so.”
Mr Cannon said Fine Gael needed now to look at forming a stable government, perhaps with Fianna Fáil. “I don’t suspect that any people that cast their ballot yesterday want to see us going back to them in the near future and that places a serious responsibility upon all of us to perhaps set aside some of the preconceived notions we might have had in the past about working with certain entities or parties,” he said. Asked whether this meant doing a deal with Fianna Fáil, he said: “I think it has to be considered.”
Mr Canney said Independents now had an “opportunity and a responsibility” to contribute to a stable government. “We don’t have to be a party and we are not a party but at this stage I think we have to be responsible in what we do,” he said.
Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins was eliminated on the fourth count with a total vote of 5,470. Sinn Féin’s Annemarie Roche had previously been eliminated on the third count in Galway East.
In the second count, the votes of eliminated candidates Maireád Ni Chroinin and Aengus Melia failed to make a great difference to the candidates’ standings. Michael “Stroke” Fahy was eliminated on 2,418 votes.
Seán Canney topped the first count in Galway East with 8,447 first preference votes.
Like a lot of rural constituencies west of the Shannon, there has been a consistent pattern in Galway East where the two big parties have dominated. Fianna Fáil was the strongest traditionally. In more recent times, the spoils were shared, with each party winning two of the four seats.
There were a few bumps along the way. An Independent councillor from Tuam, Paddy McHugh, won a seat here in 2002 at the expense of Fine Gael. He was from the Fianna Fáil gene pool.
Like elsewhere, everything changed in 2011. Fine Gael won two seats with new candidates, Paul Connaughton junior and Ciarán Cannon, Micheál Kitt held onto a single Fianna Fáil seat and Colm Keaveney made the breakthrough for Labour.
The changes in the past four years have been huge. Connaughton and Kitt saw their bases being transferred into Roscommon. It involved a lot of hand-wringing for both as to where they would stand next time. They decided to stay put. More recently, Kitt decided to call it a day.
The other big change has been in Keaveney’s circumstances. He went in as a Labour TD and is now a Fianna Fáil deputy, after a dramatic exit from his former party. There were questions over how he would be received by the local organisation. In the event, he came through the convention handily enough, seeing off the challenge of the two male candidates. Anne Rabbitte was automatically selected when a gender quota instruction was applied.
To retain its status as a constituency, Roscommon had to find a sizeable portion of another county to graft on to it. Unfortunately for Galway East, it took the hit.
The constituency dropped from four seats to three seats and has lost an incredible 32 electoral divisions, with a population of 20,521 shifting to Roscommon. It has meant that huge swathes of east and north-east Galway from Ballinasloe through Ahascragh, to Glenamaddy, Creggs, and Castleblakeney right up to the north of Dunmore have been lost. The commission made the weak argument that nine electoral divisions in Galway East were once in Roscommon. But the others weren’t and while there is some contiguity along the border, the political and spiritual compass for all those places has always pointed to Galway.
Paul Connaughton saw his base sliced in half. Tim Broderick, an Independent councillor from Kilconnell near Ballinasloe, performed very strongly in 2011 and won an extraordinary 3,400 votes in last year's local elections. But the constituency changes meant he could not have mounted any kind of campaign. If the boundaries had been unaltered, he would have been elected.
Geographically, it’s a big constituency bordering five counties. It takes in all the county’s biggest towns outside Galway city. While many people living within 30km of the city are commuting, it is predominantly a rural constituency and agricultural issues such as stock prices and dairy prices predominate. Winter flooding in the south of the county remains a big problem and despite years of campaigning and promises, it has not been fully sorted out yet.
Many of the smaller towns and villages have suffered the twin ravages of depopulation and emigration and are visibly showing the signs. Connectivity is also a big issue here with poor quality broadband availability, and mobile coverage, in large pockets of the county. The M6 motorway has been a huge boon – no more so than the recent announcement by Apple that it will built a huge data centre in Athenry.