In Galway West, the 2011 general election is remembered, not fondly, for its mammoth 70-hour count.
The constituency was the last to return its TDs -1 Fine Gael, 1 Fianna Fáil, 1 Labour, 1 Independent – following two full recounts at Leisureland, the first requested by then-Fine Gael candidate Fidelma Healy Eames, and the second by now-Independent TD Catherine Connolly, when she was in touching distance – 17 votes – of that last seat, ultimately taken by FG TD Sean Kyne.
So, this time, ‘Did you bring the sleeping bag, we’ll be here until Thursday!’ was the common greeting among journalists and photographers at the count centre in NUI Galway.
This time out, it was clear from the first tallies that some well-known Galway West candidates simply hadn’t performed at the ballot box, namely Labour’s Derek Nolan, viewed as the heir to the Michael D crown in 2011, and now-Independent Fidelma Healy Eames.
Back in 2011, Nolan stormed home in front, taking a massive 7,489 first preference votes, even outdoing Fianna Fáil powerhouse Éamon Ó Cuív. But this time, he limped in with 3,220 No. 1 votes, down 4,269 on five years ago, reflecting a local and national sense of anger at Labour that has seen the party lose most of its seats.
When he arrived at the count centre at NUI Galway after 3pm Saturday, he did a quick scan of the tallies, confirming what he already knew, then was dignified in defeat, thanking supporters and patiently answering questions, even those about losing Michael D’s “legacy” seat. It was a long way from 2011.
Similarly, this time, a recount wasn’t on the cards for Healy Eames, who polled just 1,394 first preference votes, a drop of 3,652 on her 5,046 total in 2011, taking just 263 transfers before elimination on the fifth count.
After over 15 hours of counting on Saturday, the word ‘recount’ remained in the room throughout Sunday however, as remaining candidates crept closer together on transfers – just 26 votes saw Social Democrats’ Niall O Tuathail eliminated ahead of Fianna Fáil’s John Connolly in Count 11. (‘Would have been nice to add another thousand votes to final figure but not worth delaying count,’ O Tuathail said, admirably, afterwards).
In the end, on Count 14, the 1,000+ difference between Trevor O Clochartaigh and Hildegarde Naughton removed the recount question, and ended what most feared would be another mammoth run. And so, with 64,759 votes counted over 24 hours, 15 candidates out of 20 eliminated, endless cups of coffee…Galway West elected its five TDs – 2 Fine Gael, 2 Independents, 1 Fianna Fáil – with the minimum of fuss.
Now, as for the next general election…