Anti-water charge demonstrators in Dublin.Irish Independent

The Independents ruled the roost on Saturday night as voters in Dublin South-West and Roscommon-South Leitrim let the government and both Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail know where they stand on the water charges issues.

Councillor Michael Fitzmaurice stunned Fianna Fail favourite Ivan Connaughton with his victory in the Roscommon-South Leitrim by-election to fill the seat left vacant by new Euro MEP Luke Ming Flanagan.

And Sinn Fein’s Cathal King was surprisingly beaten into second place in the Dublin South-West by-election by socialist anti-austerity candidate Paul Murphy.

The two independents were elected on a day when an estimated 50,000 protested against the government’s water charges policy at a mass rally in Dublin.

Murphy said the revolt against the water charges was the main reason for his shock win.

He said: “This is a result because of a revolt against the water charges, there’s no question  about it.

“The Anti-Austerity Alliance provided a very clear opposition to water charges. Our call for a massive boycott campaign, a massive campaign of protest, resonated right across the constituency.

“I think that was reflected in the vote, that in reality that movement on water charges has now propelled us into the Dáil (Irish parliament).”

Revolt was also on the agenda in Connacht where turf cutting campaigner Fitzmaurice, backed by Ming Flanagan, left the fancied Connaughton, Fine Gael’s Maura Hopkins and Sinn Fein’s Martin Kenny in his wake as transfers made all the difference to his election bid. (The European Union tried to put a cap on how much turf an individual could cut which aroused huge opposition).

Arriving late at the count centre in Roscommon’s Dr Hyde Park - Fitzmaurice told reporters he had ‘cattle to move’ before he could make his victory speech – Fitzmaurice also vowed to fight the water charges.

He then told supporters: “For too long people have been wronged here in the West of Ireland.

“We were up against it. When you have the big party machines obviously it’s like the mouse and the elephant but I’m a grand big fella.

“We took them on and thank God we got vindicated.”

As Fianna Fail digested the defeat, party leader Micheál Martin was adamant the result in Roscommon-South Leitrim wouldn’t put his leadership under any pressure.

Martin said: “There is no question of my leadership being under pressure as a result of this by-election loss. It wasn’t our seat to lose, it was Ming Flanagan’s seat.”

Flanagan paid tribute to Galway based Fitzmaurice. The MEP spoke to Irish website TheJournal.ie and said: “When you say that he’s my candidate, I’m his candidate as well and myself and Michael have travelled many a road together - in fact, we organised 98 meetings around the country when we were on the turf-cutting, and I spent 98 days with this man in a jeep.

”I’m a townie and he’s a culchie, and between the two of us we’re starting to work it out. Now I’m a bit of culchie and he’s a bit of townie.”