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.