THE collapse of the Fine Gael vote, and the loss of the seat it had held almost exclusively since the foundation of the party, was the major surprise of the general election in Cork South West this week.
Senator Tim Lombard and his running mate Cllr Karen Coakley were unsuccessful in their attempts to win back the seat vacated by the outgoing Fine Gael TD Jim Daly.
There was disappointment, too, for Fianna Fáil when the sitting TD, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (pictured right), lost her seat after her previous poll-topping vote virtually halved on this occasion.
For Fianna Fáil at least, there was the saving grace of it being a personnel change because the county mayor, Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan, comfortably took the seat – having exceeded the quota – on the eighth count.
Cllr O’Sullivan – the partner of Holly Cairns – will now follow in the footsteps of his father, Christy O’Sullivan, who was elected for a four-year term in 2007.
As expected, the independent sitting TD Michael Collins topped the poll, comfortably exceeding the quota, and was deemed elected on the first count.
For Social Democrat, Holly Cairns, it was a case of lightening striking twice, because against all the odds she beat Senator Lombard, taking the seat on the eighth count.
Early tallies from the eastern side of the constituency put her at 8% to 10%, but her numbers climbed steadily as the western boxes were opened. Her first preference vote of 4,696 put her in fifth place ahead of Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, and strategists from both parties described her campaign and its outcome as ‘phenomenal’ but – given her placing – they thought she would never catch up. It was the transfer of 986 votes from the Green Party candidate, Bernie Connolly in the fourth count that proved pivotal. But the real twist in the tale didn’t come until the final count just before 4am on Monday.
Going into the eighth count, Holly was 2,078 votes behind Senator Lombard – a seeming insurmountable hurdle – but Cllr Paul Hayes of Sinn Féin saw 3,023 of his transfers go to Holly, and 393 to Tim Lombard, and the Social Democrat was deemed elected with 10,078 votes.
Moments before the final announcement, Holly’s dad, Clem Cairns, spoke to The Southern Star and revealed the doubts he had – three weeks ago – that his 30-year-old daughter could change the status quo in Cork South West, and take a seat for the Social Democrats.
‘We are learning about Holly,’ he added, ‘that every time she tries to do something, she generally succeeds – even beyond what seems to be possible at the time.’
This week Margaret Murphy O’Mahony said she would now seek a Senate seat and said the decision to run two Fianna Fáil candidates was her downfall.