Vote marks significant shift


The local and European elections have seen a fundamental shift in Irish politics with Fianna Fáil obtaining the lowest share of the vote in its history and Fine Gael becoming the biggest party in a national election for the first time.

A strong performance by the Labour Party and the near wipeout of the Greens were the other main features of the election.

There was more bad news for the Government in the two Dublin byelections, with Fianna Fáil pushed into third place in Dublin South and fifth place in Dublin Central.

The election of George Lee with a record vote for Fine Gael in Dublin South, and of Independent Maureen O¿Sullivan in Dublin Central, has cut the Governments Dáil majority to just three.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has tabled a motion of no confidence in the Government which will be debated in the Dáil this week.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said last night he was unaware of any personal criticism of his leadership because of the result.

¿I haven¿t heard any critical voices from anyone at the moment, actually. In fact, what I¿ve been hearing from all of our organisation is that they fought a very positive campaign,¿ he said.

Speaking in Punchestown, where the count for the East constituency in the European elections was taking place, Mr Cowen accepted the results would influence the forthcoming review of the Programme for Government with the Greens.

¿We¿re absolutely determined and united as a Government to proceed with policies that will bring order back to our public finances. That is a precondition for economic recovery,¿ he said.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the voters had responded to Fine Gael¿s call for a new beginning and a fresh start. ¿For the first time in 80 years, the dominance of Fianna Fáil has been broken. Fine Gael is now the largest party with the largest number of seats and the largest number of votes.¿

He added that Fine Gael could win 70 seats or more in a general election, which he said could happen within 12 months.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore called on the Green Party to respect the verdict of the Irish people and withdraw from Government.

¿The message for the Greens is: the service that they now can do the country is to take the verdict of the Irish people and to respect it, and respecting it means this Government standing down, and they should encourage their Coalition partners to do likewise,¿ Mr Gilmore said.

Green Party leader John Gormley described the results as traumatic for his party and said he would welcome a period of reflection. He insisted the party would remain in Government and the question of pulling out would not be on the agenda during the forthcoming review of the Programme for Government.

However, defeated Green councillor and former mayor of Galway Niall Ó Brolcháin said Mr Gormley had told him yesterday that all options were now on the table. Mr Ó Brolcháin added that the forthcoming review of the Programme for Government would have to be put to the membership of the party.

In the local elections, the Fianna Fáil share of the vote dropped to 25 per cent, a drop of 7 per cent since the last local elections in 2004 and a drop of 17 per cent since the general election two years ago.

The Fine Gael vote was up 7 per cent to 32 per cent, Labour was up 4 per cent on 2004 to 15 per cent, Sinn Féin was down almost one percentage point to 7 per cent, while the Greens were down over 1 per cent to 2.4 per cent. There was a big rise in the vote of Independents and other parties by almost 5 points to 18.3 per cent.

In terms of council seats, Fine Gael is on course to be the biggest party in local government for the first time, with about 80 more seats than Fianna Fáil.

Dublin was a black spot for both Government parties. Fianna Fáil has been left without any representation in a quarter of electoral wards while the Green Party has no seats in Dublin, Cork or Galway.

A number of senior Ministers acknowledged the Government had suffered very serious losses and would have to reflect on the outcome. Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said the Government had been under siege for the past few months because of the banking and economic crisis but he accepted they had not ¿communicated the reality of all of this as well as we might¿.