Miriam Lord: Election floodgates open for Mary Lou McDeluge and Sinn Féin
It was the best day ever for the Shinners’ leader and the biggest day ever for her party
With Sinn Féin in full spate and a line of burly security men holding hands to form a tidal barrier, she rolled in.
Mary Lou McDeluge, sweeping all before her.
It was the sort of entrance most politicians can only dream about – arriving at their count to huge clamour and acclaim; smiling into the glare of the TV lights as supporters cheer, reporters shout, and parents snatch their small children away from the dangerous path of the media maul.
It was the best day ever for Mary Lou McDonald. The biggest day ever for Sinn Féin.
From the release of a sensational exit poll on Saturday night to its almost immediate confirmation on Sunday morning, the theme was relentlessly tidal. This was a Sinn Féin surge.
A Full Tide.
In count centres all over the country, on the dot of 9am, there wasn’t so much the opening of boxes as the opening of sluice gates. Sinn Féin candidates, some unknown names, some having sunk seemingly without trace at the local elections, all powering to the top of the polls, collecting quotas for sport and leaving established vote getters floundering in their wake.
There was a scramble to explain it.
‘Put manners on’
On radio, speaking from Roscommon where he would take the first seat handily, Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice was bringing the word from rural Ireland. The people had voted “to put manners on” the two main parties, he declared.
These parties – he meant outgoing government Fine Gael and an expectant Fianna Fáil about to get a dose of hard reality – “might cop on now and listen to what’s going on around the country” because “the ground is movin’”.
And it certainly was.
As the day moved into night, the march of Sinn Féin continued apace. By 9pm, the party had more than 20 seats in the bag while the Taoiseach, Leo Varadakar, and the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, were still waiting to get over the line.
The Sinn Féin leader wiped the floor with the competition in Dublin Central. At the barriers as the ballots were unfolded and flattened and placed in piles in front of the tallymen and women, they recorded the first preferences. Two men leaned over and carefully watched as the contents of one box were revealed.
One of them called the name, the other one ticked his list.
“McDonald, McDonald, McDonald, McDonald ... Donohoe! ... McDonald, McDonald, McDonald...”
He sounded so pleased when he came across a different name, even though it belonged to the Fine Gael Minister for Finance and he had Fianna Fáil stickers on his back. Judging by that reaction, maybe a national coalition between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael wouldn’t seem such a bad thing for many members of the “establishment parties”.
For all the unbounded celebrating that happened at the Dublin count centre in the RDS, there was an equal amount of brooding going on among worried-looking non-Shinners.
Still, this was democracy in action. Politicians from all parties exchanged information, discussed their own prospects and constituency trends and sworn rivals on another day shook hands and congratulated and condoled in equal measure.
Then, just two hours into the counting, something happened to disrupt the mood. Dessie Ellis, the Finglas-based Sinn Féin candidate for Dublin North West already knew he was going to walk it. Quotas to burn.
A number of supporters entered the RDS to join the jubilant Ellis contingent. They started to cheer and the photographers surrounded them and suddenly flags were produced and a man held up his scarf depicting the martyrs of 1916. Then the singing started.
“Come out ye Black and Tans, come out and fight me like a man….”
Cock-a-hoop, linking arms, Dessie in the middle of them. There was a rush of camera crews and microphones were thrust in front of them. Over to one side, a Sinn Féin official watched in dismay.
“Dessie Ellis! Number one! Come on a united Ireland! Bring on the referendum! Tiochfaidh ar lá!”
The journalists were loving it. The foreign media lapped it up. “Up the Irish. The real Irish!” shouted a woman. “Up the Wolfe Tones!” And they sang the Black and Tans chorus again and unsuccessfully attempted a few of the verses. “With your sixteen-pounder gun, de dum de dum de dum….”
The count staff sat around, eyes wide, eyebrows raised.
People watching exchanged worried looking glances.
The woman, perhaps from headquarters, had taken Ellis aside.
“For God’s sake Dessie, what are you at! You can’t be doing that, you’re an elected representative.”
Loving the attention
Back at the barriers, loving the attention, his supporters tried to get going again. But this time it fizzled out. A woman looked angrily at the people, tut-tutting.
“It’s just a song. Proud of our history.”
A friend tried to calm her.
“I’m sick of them,” she said.
An instruction went that this sort of display shouldn’t happen again. And it didn’t.
“They just got carried away,” said Dessie afterwards as he told us he got 14,000 first preferences. It’s a pity, given the sizeable surpluses, that they didn’t run second candidates, but they weren’t to know there would be such a surge.
“The locals [elections] let us down.”
Aengus Ó Snodaigh was next to arrive for a big celebration. He was cheered in by colleagues from Dublin South Central. His eyes were brimming as he spoke to the media. Then Dessie joined them and the pair of them looked like they would burst into tears any minute.
The crowd sang Oró Se do Bheatha Abhaile, but they sang it nicely and there wasn’t a flag or a scarf produced.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael supporters were giving out to the media for writing them off. The party did far better than predicted, and even though they still had a nightmare, you take what comfort you can in these situations.
The less said about Fianna Fáil the better. They said very little and kept very quiet. Dublin did not come out for the party.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was a little disappointed with the party’s showing. They’ll considerably increase their number of Dáil seats but their little surge was totally eclipsed by the rampant Sinn Féin.
Minister for the Environment Richard Bruton toured the hall, checking the results. Later in the afternoon, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy arrived into a barrage of heckling from a group of People Before Profit members.
“Murphy Out. Murphy Out,” they chanted as he went to observe the Dublin Bay South count.
He was with his brother, the actor Killian Scott, who was dressed in black. He was also accused of being Eoghan’s “private security”, which he found amusing.
Despite the utter disdain shown for the outgoing Minister by some supporters from the Left, it didn’t stop a few of the women attempting a few sneaky selfies with his brother.
The queue for Mary Lou started early, maybe an hour before the first estimate for her arrival was given. Crash barriers were put up inside the door while a large group of supporters waited outside under a long canopy, in the cold. They sang “Hello Mary Lou”, which was allowed.
There were a few false dawns, but a couple of hours later, the party leader arrived in the rain and her car was rushed by the press. She made her way inside under a black umbrella into utter pandemonium. With the RDS security team under pressure, they managed to move her from interview platform to interview platform.
In the two hours or so she spent in the building, the only time she stopped talking was when she was whisked through the emergency exit doors and away from the crowd to take a breather before her result was announced. Then she came back in and was engulfed in the semi-hysterical delight of her supporters.
At three minutes to six, McDonald was elected. There was a flurry of activity. At three minutes past six, she was gone. The delirious Shinners still celebrating as her Sinn Féin-branded SUV left from an alley at the side of the Simmonscourt extension. There was a handful of Shinners outside, smoking. They cheered. She waved as passed them. Mary Lou McDid-It.
She is now in a three-way tie with the two main parties. She is willing to talk. The other two were not before the election. The Fianna Fáil leader seemed to soften his stance slightly when speaking in Cork while the Taoiseach has not changed.
“A forced marriage would not be good for government,” said Leo Varadkar.
And still they marvelled at the Sinn Féin successs.
“The Kildare woman who went on holidays is flying. She’s going to win a seat. The women in Clare who only got 380 votes in the locals has topped the polls.”
Dessie Ellis left soon after Mary Lou. Off to celebrate in the Cappagh House.
“It’s known as the Abbey Tavern now.”
They could sing as much as they liked there.