A top Fianna Fail aide has admitted that the ‘electorate has rioted at the ballot box’ as the outgoing government faces a General Election wipe-out - with Tanaiste Mary Coughlan facing an embarrassing extinction in her native Donegal.
Coughlan’s plight, as she fights for the final seat in Donegal South West, is just typical of Fianna Fail’s annihilation as the boxes open and the tallies mount across the country.
Even outgoing Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan is battling to hang into the final seat in Dublin West as Fianna Fail faces its worst election result ever with just 8% of the vote in the capital.
Incredibly, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has close to four times the quota as he prepares to top the poll in Mayo and lead the country as the new Taoiseach.
Other headlines include a guaranteed seat for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in Louth, a top of the poll debut for developer Mick Wallace and his pink shirt in Wexford, a triumph for Shane Ross in Dublin South, a return for Joe Higgins in Dublin West and a surprise seat for Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan in Roscommon-South Leitrim.
Coughlan isn’t the only potential big name Fianna Fail casualty with Minister Mary Hanafin, Barry Andrews and Conor Lenihan also struggling in Dublin.
“The electorate has rioted at the ballot box,” said one top Fianna Fail official as counts carried on across the 43 constituencies to elect 165 members of the 31st Dail.
Fianna Fail General Secretary Sean Dorgan also confirmed the worst possible outcome for the outgoing Celtic Tiger government when he added: “Today will be the toughest day we have ever had.
“This is a punishment election for Fianna Fail as far as the electorate is concerned and the voters have sent a strong message to our party.
“That message is understood but despite any potential for seat losses today, the Fianna Fail Party may be down but not out.”
Commenting on individual struggles, Dorgan added: “Brian Lenihan should hold onto his seat in Dublin but my information is that Mary Coughlan’s bid to be re-elected in Donegal will go down to the wire.”
Fine Gael will be the big winners going into the new Dail with Kenny currently on track to lead four TDs for the party from his Mayo constituency alone, an unprecedented success.
The party’s General Secretary Tom Curran said: “This is an historic day for our party, as things stand at the various count centres we could end up with over 36% of the vote and our highest tally ever.”
Deputy Director of Elections for Fine Gael, Frank Flannery added: “Results can vary from constituency to constituency and it will be interesting to see how the transfers work out and affect the overall result.
“But there is no doubt now that we will enjoy an historic victory and that Fianna Fail will have a dramatically horrific election.”
Blueshirt hopes for a single-party government with the support of independents now look forlorn as the Labour party also prepares to celebrate.
Eamon Gilmore is certain to be named Tanaiste after Labour’s best election results ever with an estimated 20.5 per cent of the overall vote compared to Fine Gael’s 36.1 per cent and Fianna Fail’s abysmal 15.1.
Labour spokesman David Leech said: “This is a great day for the Labour Party in Ireland.
“Fine Gael had a very strong two weeks at the beginning of this election campaign but we felt the tide was shifting in our favor during the finals days and the results prove it.”
Journalist, Senator and Independent candidate Shane Ross is set to add his own unique take on politics to the 31st Dail.
The outspoken financial expert looks certain to top the poll on his General Election debut in the five seater Dublin South constituency where tallies show him on 23 per cent of the first preference vote.
Ross, a columnist and business editor with the Sunday Independent newspaper, is just one of many independents who will take their seat in Dail Eireann on March 9th.
“The message from the electorate with their support of independent candidates is very clear right across the country,” Ross told RTE News.
“The people have put down a marker and told us that they want new politics and new politicians. They have told us that they don’t want tribal politics in Ireland anymore and we have to listen to that.
“It is going to be fascinating to get into this Dail with all these new Independents and I look forward to some very strong opinions and leadership in a new look Dail Eireann.”
Ross’s remarkable success in Dublin South has been mirrored by the developer, football club owner and activist Mick Wallace in Wexford.
The flamboyant builder, as famous for his long blond locks as he is for protest banners on his building sites against the American presence in Iraq, has a real chance of topping the poll in the five seat South-East constituency.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams will take his seat in Dail Eireann after a major vote pulling success in the Louth constituency.
The former MP for West Belfast is currently neck and neck with Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd to top the poll in the border constituency.
Adams will lead a team of at least 10 Sinn Fein TDs when the new Dail sits on March 9th after the party amassed just over 10% of the national vote according to the RTE Exit poll.
A delighted Adams told RTE: “When we set out on this election campaign we set ourselves a target to double the Sinn Fein representation in Dail Eireann.
“We did that with a very firm foundation in constituencies through the state and I am delighted that we are now on target to do just that and achieve that aim.”
Party spokesman Thomas Sharkey backed the Adams claim and said: “The performance of our candidates has been excellent.
“We could end up with as many as 15 seats and that would be a fantastic result for the party.”
Former Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey didn’t run in this General Election but he did admit the party’s popularity had fallen off the Richter scale as he analyzed early poll results.
Speaking from the count centre in Meath West, where outgoing Fianna Fail TD Johnny Brady was in trouble, Dempsey admitted things looked bad for FF nationwide.
“The picture is pretty grim across the country and particularly in Dublin where it is really bad,” said Dempsey, one of many outgoing Fianna Fail TDs who decided not to run in this election and who will now pick up a lucrative pension.
“We are not going to win any of the final seats in constituencies like we did on transfers before. To get 20 plus seats would be good at this stage.”
Martin Mansergh, a former Minister for State and one of the public faces of Fianna Fail, has also admitted that he faces a real fight to retain his seat in South Tipperary.
“It will be quite a struggle for me to hold on to my seat,” said Mansergh.
The Green Party is paying a heavy price for its support of Fianna Fail in the outgoing coalition government with Paul Gogarty already admitting defeat in his bid to retain a seat in Dail Eireann.
Gogarty was the first sitting Green TD to concede his race was run as the party face a major putdown by voters.
The outspoken Dublin Mid-West TD used the social network site Twitter to give up the ghost as the Greens face up to just three seats at most in the new Dail, down from six.
“Loads of 2, 3, 4, which is comforting, but not enough No 1s. I concede, with good grace,” wrote Gogarty on Twitter.
Enda Kenny is set to become the second oldest person to be elected Taoiseach for the first time when the 31st Dail sits on March 9th.
Only Fianna Fail legend Sean Lemass, father-in-law of Charlie Haughey, was older when he first took up the highest office in the land.
Kenny will be almost seven weeks short of his 60th birthday when he takes office while Lemass was three weeks and just one day away from 60 when he was elected Taoiseach in 1959.
Fine Gael leader Kenny will also be the first Taoiseach since Lemass not to have served in either the Department of Finance or Foreign Affairs.
A Christian Solidarity Party candidate in Meath West has claimed that his party was portrayed by an image that ‘looked like a picture of nuts’ on the ballot paper.
Manus McMeanmain has officially complained that his party logo wasn’t present on the ballot paper and was replaced by an image akin to ‘nuts’.