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Image / Editorial

General Election 2020: 8 of the biggest talking points from count day

by Grace McGettigan
10th Feb 2020

With votes still being counted in the 2020 General Election, we’re looking at some of the biggest talking points from the past 24 hours

Counting is still ongoing in 23 constituencies around Ireland, with half of the 160 available Dáil seats now filled. Sinn Féin is leading the charge with more than 30 seats secured, but whether or not they will enter government with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil is still up in the air. As the votes continue to be counted, we’re examining some of the biggest talking points from the count so far. In no particular order…

Danny Healy-Rae vs the planet

Kerry candidate Danny Healy-Rae came under fire after he was interviewed in the count centre by Virgin Media News. The 66-year-old from Kilgarvan told the channel, “To hell with the planet and the fellas who say we must save the planet. I’m not one of those people. I make no apologies to anyone, anywhere for that”.

Cleo Murphy, who is Kerry’s Green Party candidate, criticised his comments, adding that it’s ridiculous to ignore the climate crisis when the country is currently being battered by Storm Ciara.

A sad day for women in politics

This year’s election was the first in which all constituencies in Ireland had at least one female candidate. However, as the count goes on, it’s becoming ever-clearer that men are the real winners.

In Dublin West, for example, both Ruth Coppinger (Solidarity–People Before Profit) and Joan Burton (Labour) have lost their seats in the Dáil, with the constituency electing four men instead. Elsewhere, Lisa Chambers of Fianna Fáil lost her seat in Mayo, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (also of Fianna Fáil) lost her seat in Cork South West, and Regina Doherty of Fine Gael, who has been acting as the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, was defeated in Meath East.

Other women who have lost their seats include the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone (Independent) and the Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor (Fine Gael).

High-profile TDs lose their seats

It’s not just women losing their Dáil seats, however. Shane Ross (Independent) who has been serving as Ireland’s Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport failed to be elected in Dublin Rathdown. Ross, who had a controversial year because of the FAI scandal and Irish Greyhound Board controversy, was eliminated after the fifth count.

Other men who have lost their seats include Fianna Fáil’s Kevin O’Keeffe (Cork East) and Shane Cassells (Meath West), as well as Fine Gael TD Noel Rock (Dublin North-West).

A move to the left

As many TDs say goodbye to life in the Dáil, a number of Sinn Féin candidates will take their seats for the first time. Paul Donnelly of Dublin West is one such person, who secured his place on the first count. His election was a particular talking point as he shares a constituency with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. While Donnelly sailed through with 12,456 first-preference votes, Varadkar fell below the quota with just 8,478 first-preferences.

Sinn Féin topped the polls elsewhere in the country too, with the party receiving 24.5% of first-preference votes. Fianna Fáil, on the other hand, came away with 22.2%, while Fine Gael received 20.9%. Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the party’s leader Mary Lou McDonald said, Ireland’s “two-party system is now a thing of the past”.

Meanwhile, the Green Party has also increased its presence in the Dáil, from two seats to at least five. The party’s leader, Eamon Ryan, has once again secured his seat in Dublin Bay South. Other newly-elected Greens include Roderic O’Gorman (Dublin West), Ossian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire), Marc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford), and Catherine Martin (Dublin-Rathdown).

Leo Varadkar’s first time on a waiting list?

As mentioned above, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was out-voted in Dublin West by Sinn Féin’s Paul Donnelly. The Fine Gael leader was hopeful he’d secure a seat after the second count – but in the end, it wasn’t until the fifth count of vote transfers that he was re-elected to the Dáil.

Quick-witted social media users soon joked that this may be the first time Varadkar has experienced a waiting list – with some saying it “will do him good” to understand what the rest of us go through.

Similarly, Tánaiste Simon Coveney had to wait until the eighth count in Cork South Central to secure his seat, while Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin had to wait until the sixth.

Couples who campaign together, get elected together

A couple who ran for election in the same constituency for different parties have both been elected. Holly Cairns (Social Democrats) and Christopher O’Sullivan (Fianna Fáil) secured two of the three available seats in Cork South West. The happy news was announced at 3:30 am this morning, with the count in this constituency continuing long after all others went to bed. Cairns and O’Sullivan will join Independent candidate, Michael Collins, in the new Dáil.

Micheál Martin ‘open’ to being in government with Sinn Féin?

For years, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he would never, under any circumstances, enter a coalition with Sinn Féin. It now seems he’s willing to change his mind.

Speaking to journalists at the count centre in Cork South Central, Martin said, “There is serious incompatibility between ourselves and Sinn Fein – but what is important, is that the country comes first. There is an onus on all that a functioning government is formed.” When pushed for his thoughts on a possible coalition, he refused to rule it out.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy survives the vote

Despite huge criticism for his role in the ongoing housing crisis, Fine Gael’s outgoing Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has been re-elected in Dublin Bay South.

When the 37-year-old arrived at the count centre in Dublin’s RDS, Murphy was met by hecklers chanting, ‘Out, out, out’ – with many others shouting expletives. He responded to the jeers saying, “We have to do more when it comes to getting people off the streets and into homes, but also to do more to help people out of the rent trap to buy their own home.” Many have questioned why he hasn’t done more on these issues already.

Photos: RTÉ


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