Tom Clonan wins Seanad byelection by 160 votes after close race

Maureen Gaffney edged out after failing to get required number of Chu transfers in final count

Security analyst and academic Tom Clonan has won the Seanad byelection after an incredibly close race that came down to the wire between four candidates.

High-profile candidates - former Dublin Lord Mayor Hazel Chu and retired Irish rugby star Hugo MacNeill - were eliminated before the 16th and final count which which ended with Mr Clonan taking the seat with 5,358 votes.

Mr Clonan won out over well-known psychologist Maureen Gaffney who ended up with 5,198 votes after putting in a strong campaign.

Due to a long-standing prior commitment in Cork Mr Clonan was not in attendance to hear president and provost of the university Linda Doyle announce the final result shortly before 9.30pm.


However, he thanked his voters and pledged to continue campaigning on issues like disabilities and gender-based violence in the Seanad.

He said that when he left the Christian Brothers in Finglas in 1984 he “never in a million years” thought he would end up being elected as a Senator for Trinity College and he is “very proud” of his win.

He thanked his family for their support, particularly his son Eoghan (20) who worked as his campaign manager.

Eoghan has a rare neuromuscular condition called Pelizaeus Merzbacher Disease.

Mr Clonan spoke of how his son has overcome obstacles of the severe illness and “now he’s got his auld fella into the Seanad.

“I’m very grateful to him.”

In total, 17 candidates vied for the seat in the University of Dublin constituency left vacant by the election to the Dáil last year of Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik.

Voting in the constituency is limited to just under 68,000 graduates of Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

The total number of ballots returned was 13,434, amounting to a turnout of just under 20 per cent.

Former Defence Forces officer Mr Clonan is a commentator on security issues and has written extensively on the war in Ukraine in recent weeks.

He has been a long-time campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities.

Ms Chu - who served as Dublin’s Lord Mayor during the pandemic - was eliminated after the 15th count and came third.

Independent candidate Mr MacNeill - who is married to Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll-MacNeill - was widely regarded as a frontrunner during the campaign and topped the poll on the first count but ended up coming fourth.

The fifth place candidate was doctoral student Ursula Quill who previously worked as an assistant to Ms Bacik during her time in the Seanad.

The result amounts to a loss of a Labour seat and will be a disappointment to Ms Bacik who assumed the leadership of the party just last week.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times