South Tipperary’s political landscape has been dramatically transformed in an historic vote that obliterated Fianna Fail in a constituency now dominated by independents whose political machines pulled in phenomenal votes to get them elected to the 31st Dail.
The general election was a spectacular success story for Independent Seamus Healy after his 2007 defeat by fifty nine votes and for rebel Fianna Fail TD Mattie McGrath who ran as an independent candidate.
The two independents and Fine Gael’s Tom Hayes, who topped a general election poll for the third time in a row, will represent Tipperary South in the next Dail.
The biggest casualty of the national Fianna Fail wipeout in this constituency was Minister of State Martin Mansergh. While his own personal vote held up, he lost his seat to Healy in a reversal of the 2007 result leaving Tipperary South without a FF representative in the Dail for the first time since the foundation of the State.
Fine Gael’s Michael Murphy, who polled extremely well on his first time out, proved to be the main challenger to Mattie McGrath for the third seat.
The election was a disaster for the Labour Party with a challenge for that third seat from Senator Phil Prendergast failing to materialise. There was some consolation for the Labour candidate however as she is in line to fill the Munster MEP vacancy that arises because of Alan Kelly’s election in Tipperary North.
It was a remarkable political comeback by Seamus Healy after the shattering blow of defeat last time out by such a narrow margin. He secured 21.3% of the vote and was the first TD elected on the third count on Saturday at the Dr Pat O’Callaghan Sports Complex .
He was followed by Fine Gael’s Tom Hayes in the fourth count and the three seats were filled when Mattie McGrath was elected on the fifth count without reaching a quota.
Each victory received a rapturous welcome as supporters of all three raised their candidate aloft to a deafening crescendo of celebration.
Election for all three represented a tremendous personal achievement, -Tom Hayes for his incredible poll topping show and party leadership that saw councillor Michael Murphy challenge for the third seat; Seamus Healy on a determined campaign to return to the Dail and Mattie McGrath whose decision to run as an Independent was vindicated.
While Deputy Hayes may not be a frontrunner for ministerial promotion following the party leadership contest last June, leader Enda Kenny will have to take into consideration the performance of the party in the constituency and the astonishing performance of Hayes who took 21.5% of the vote. It was his third time in a row topping the poll in a general election and he was elected for the first time in the 2001 by- election with another poll topping performance.
After his election Seamus Healy ruled out supporting a minority government and said it was important that an alternative voice to the mainstream parties be heard in Dail Eireann.
His seat on South Tipperary County Council will be filled by Cllr. Billy Shoer next month while the identity of the WUAG member to fill his seat on Clonmel Corporation is not yet known.
Deputy Mattie McGrath vowed to never return to the Fianna Fail ranks after being elected on the fifth count. He did not rule out supporting a Fine Gael government and said he would be constructive in opposition or in government.
At an early stage in the count it looked like Fine Gael’s Michael Murphy could run Deputy McGrath close for the third seat with Minister Mansergh also not giving up on the race.
As the day progressed however, Minister Mansergh had to concede while the distribution of his votes saw McGrath home comfortably in the fifth count.
Murphy was 672 votes off McGrath after the first count and by the end of the fourth count he was 780 off him but the distribution of Mansergh’s votes put McGrath in a strong position and he coasted home with 2,030 votes separating him and Murphy at the end.
Minister Mansergh confirmed after his elimination on Saturday that he would consider running for a seat in the Seanad.Magnanimous in defeat, he said he had the most marginal seat in the country and was satisfied his vote held up compared to that of Fianna Fail around the country.
The election delivered a crushing blow to the Labour Party and Senator Phil Prendergast.She was eliminated on the second count and was never in the running to challenge for the third seat.
She confirmed this week that she does expect to be nominated to fill the Alan Kelly MEP vacancy because of his election and that of Arthur Spring in Kerry North to the Dail.
The former mayor of Clonmel, who began her political career as a WUAG councillor in 1994, will now represent Munster in Europe and said she would still have a role to play in protecting the hospital services in South Tipperary.
Sinn Feins Cllr. Michael Browne, Mayor of Cashel, received 1,860 first preference votes while the Green Party candidate Paul McNally received 367 in a disappointing performance.