Incoming Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised a New Ireland and a new Irish political system as the curtain comes down on the most sensational General Election in the history of the State.
Kenny and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore are likely to start negotiations on a Coalition government as soon as counting finishes at tea-time on Sunday after a dramatic weekend.
Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein have all won record numbers of seats in the 41st Dail while Fianna Fail has slumped to an all-time low after they were well and truly kicked in the ballots.
Their junior government partners in the Greens didn’t even win a seat as the electorate reacted angrily to the economic crisis and the death of the Celtic Tiger.
As counts came to an end across the country, new Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin was set to pick up the pieces after a calamitous campaign.
In stark contrast, Kenny led all his three Fine Gael running mates home in the five seat Mayo constituency on a weekend of total triumph for the Blueshirts.
“A new government that will be one of responsibility, not privilege, a government of public duty not personal entitlement, a government looking with confidence and courage to the future, not with guilt and regret at the past,” said Kenny as Fine Gael prepared to take power for the first time in 14 years.
Kenny, who won the biggest number of first choice votes of all 566 candidates as he topped the poll in his native Mayo, added: “We stand on the brink of fundamental change in how we regard ourselves, in how we regard our economy and in how we regard our society.
“We have to close the gap between government and the people, between politics and the people, because it is in that gap that the rot started and the rot flourished.”
Rebuilding international faith in Ireland and economic trust will be a cornerstone of Kenny’s first term as Taoiseach.
“We cannot have another generation of Irish building the futures of other countries,” continued Kenny.
“For the next four years, let us be mindful of our duty and our responsibility during the period of the next government, and above all, in the midst of what is for many a national heartbreak, let us be mindful of each other.”
Hard work will be a key facet of the new cabinet, no matter who ends up in power alongside Fine Gael according to Kenny.
“On this spring day let us begin again to bring new life, new clarity, new shared purpose to Irish life, to Irish politics, and to the Irish future,” Kenny told supporters in Dublin.
“So let’s lift our hearts up, and let’s lift our chins up, because now we’ve been given a responsibility and a mandate and let us not shirk in our duty to our people.”
The Taoiseach in waiting also paid tribute to those who had helped him to rebuild the Fine Gael brand in this election.
“In a national sense - obviously I’ve been looking at some of the results - this is a great day for the Fine Gael party,” Kenny said.
“The party set out to achieve two ambitions principally. The first was to be the largest party in the Dail and that’s been achieved. The second was to increase our vote and seats and that’s also been achieved.
“The lesson from this general election is that government should never remove themselves from the people. The people have voted with vigour and strength and they have given their answer as to the remove the government placed itself in over the last number of years.”
Willie O’Dea landed a precious and rare seat for Fianna Fail then rounded on former leader Brian Cowen as the Republican Party came to terms with its General Election collapse.
The former Defence Minister suffered a massive drop in his personal popularity in Limerick but was finally elected on the fifth count before he rounded on Cowen’s disastrous leadership of party and country.
“I am very disappointed with the result. I am wondering how the Fianna Fail party has arrived at such a low,” said O’Dea. “Obviously tough economic decisions had to be taken, but surely this can’t be the total explanation of the catastrophe.
“I have to question the political management over the last few years. For one thing, communications left a lot to be desired.
“For another, when John Gormley called for an election to be held at the end of January, the Taoiseach should have gone to the Park immediately instead of asking people to vote a matter of days after they had been hit by tax increases and social welfare cuts in a draconian budget. I just don’t understand that.”
O’Dea was also critical of those Fianna Fail ministers who sought the sanctuary of their government pensions and retired from politics rather than face the people at this election.
He added: “Some people who did well out of the party, people who achieved high status in the party and served for many years as ministers, they should have stood to bolster our representation in the 31st Dail.
“If they had stood, we would certainly have more seats than we have at the moment and I was disappointed they chose to walk away.
“This election result is an horrendous day for Fianna Fail. Nevertheless it doesn’t take away from my sense of disappointment at the national picture which is very, very grim.”
Retired Taoiseach Brian Cowen saw his brother Barry move closer to taking his seat in Laois-Offaly then accepted full responsibility for the economic "calamity" that brought about Fianna Fail’s General Election collapse.
“I have taken full responsibility. I am very sad about the fact that we have lost many good members but the people have decided that in this election and that’s part of the process we are engaged in,” Cowen told Pat Kenny during an RTE interview.
“From my point of view as Taoiseach and having held ministerial positions in the past, I take full responsibility for all decisions, and I have never suggested otherwise.
“It’s about tonight, it’s about acknowledging the sovereignty of the people, to accept without equivocation, without condition, their verdict.
“I explained fully the motivation, the context, the content, the decisions that we made; I sought to make them with what I believed to be in the best interests of our country in mind.
“I know that the immediate impact of that politically has meant that our party has performed very poorly in this election, and I don’t ascribe that to anyone away from myself in terms of me being the former leader of the party.
“I am very sorry that there are many good people who won’t be part of the
next Dail as a result of the decision of the people.”
Outgoing Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had to fight back the tears as he stumbled across the line in Dublin West, the first and so far the only Fianna Fail TD elected in the capital.
Despite topping the poll in 2007, Lenihan had to rely on the final count to join Labour’s Joan Burton, Fine Gael’s Leo Veradkar and socialist Joe Higgins in the Dail.
“This has been a very difficult election,” admitted the man who handled the finances for the Fianna Fail government all but wiped out at the polls this weekend.
“The people have sent a very clear message today they want to see a change of government.
“They want to see a change. Fianna Fail will co-operate with that, we will provide responsible.
“It has been an extraordinarily difficult election and I appreciate the huge pain and hurt that many individuals and households have suffered as they have seen reductions in their income and worrying about the fate of their children.
“The entire nation needs to pull together if we are to have a land fit for our children.”
Tanaiste Mary Coughlan was the high profile casualty of a cruel Saturday night at the count centres for Fianna Fail.
The outgoing Government number two joined a list of ousted big name Fianna Fail TDs that also included Mary O’Rourke, Sean Haughey, Barry Andrews and Conor Lenihan also searching for new employment.
Coughlan ended up with just 5,655 votes in Donegal South West before she was eliminated after 24 years as a sitting member of Dail Eireann.
Coughlan put on a brave face at the end of a disastrous count for herself and for her party but refused to make any commitment regarding her own future.
“It has been a very difficult day for all of my colleagues, many of whom have lost their seat,” said Coughlan.
“I wish them well and I also wish those who have been elected on this occasion well and the new government that is going to be appointed.
“I haven’t made any decisions about my political career, she said. “I still remain very much committed to politics and the Fianna Fail party.”
Green Party leader John Gormley shared the pain as the junior government partners were wiped out in the General Election.
Gormley was one of six sitting Green TDs who failed to be re-elected after he received just 2,370 first preference votes in Dublin South East.
“It’s a sad day for the party. We have suffered a major defeat but will regroup,” said Gormley.
“We have a set of beliefs and values and a vision for the future. We are going to rebuild, make no mistake about it.
“It has been a difficult couple of years. We have been associated with the government that has had to make difficult decisions and that’s why we have had to endure this defeat.
“We are very proud of our achievements. We called this election because we believed it was the right thing to do. It was not in our political interest, but it was in the country’s interest. We will continue serving this country.”
Micheal Martin has vowed to pick Fianna Fail up off the floor and revitalize the party as it prepares for its first period in opposition in 14 years.
The new leader is now in charge of a FF Dail Party that has shed 66% of its seats in Leinster House after voters turned their back on the outgoing government in huge numbers.
Martin was defiant however and said: “There is a base to rebuild and renew the party, not just for its own sake but to re-engage and restore the trust of the Irish people.
“I can’t promise that we will be radical in the next Dail but we will be constructive and we will support the needs of the Irish people in the next Dail.”
Fine Gael Finance spokesman Michael Noonan has dropped the biggest hint yet that his party will seek out Labour as their coalition partners in the next government.
As Labour leader Eamon Gilmore confirmed that he had yet to receive any approach from the Blueshirts, Noonan hinted one is inevitable in the next 24 hours.
“We are not conceding other options ... but both Fine Gael and Labour have done quite well and certainly if it were possible to negotiate an acceptable programme for government, it would give a lot of stability,” said Noonan.
“I’m not a great believer in working with a handful of Independents because they are high maintenance and it’s difficult to secure stability into the future.”
Fianna Fail will lose millions of Euros in funding from the taxpayer after their dramatic fall from grace at the polls.
All parties currently share €13.6m of State funding per annum but the money is allocated on their popularity at the election which could cost FF a whopping €3million in the new Dail.
Meath and Kerry may be rivals on the gaelic football field but they now share a post-election fact – neither county has a sitting Fianna Fail TD for the first time since the foundation of the party in 1926.
Celebrity economist David McWilliams celebrated the demise of Fianna Fail and the Greens via Twitter when he quipped: “They’re gone, thank God!”
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