WITHIN an hour of the boxes being opened at the Cork South West count centre in Clonakilty, Independent candidate Michael Collins knew he was going to make it. He predicted that his first preference votes would be close to the 7,000 mark.
His actual vote of 6,765 put him in third place behind Fine Gael’s Jim Daly and Fianna Fáil’s Margaret Murphy-O’Mahony, but by the fifth count his final vote of 11,063 saw him surpass the 10,815 quota and take the second seat.
The tally figures show that he polled extremely well throughout the constituency, returning strong numbers, such as 1,800-plus in the greater Bantry area; 1,500 in Schull; 1,000 in Skibbereen; almost 900 in Bandon; over 700 in Clonakilty and close to 500 in Dunmanway. Even in Beara, he picked up 250 votes and Kinsale gave him around 180.
‘I am feeling very happy,’ he said. ‘It has been a great day for me, for my family, and for my friends, but it is also a great day for West Cork.’
The Schull-based community activist, public representative and cattle farmer said he was going to ‘dedicate the victory to the people of West Cork’. He said: ‘They now have a clear, new, independent voice that will work and work tirelessly on their behalf.’
Having worked for the past 25 years on a voluntary capacity for the people of West Cork, as well as being an independent councillor for the last year-and-a-half, Michael Collins said: ‘I want to deliver, and now I have the opportunity to deliver.’
Michael Collins will be the first independent TD to represent West Cork since the election of Flor Wycherley – the father of the Skibbereen actor Don Wycherley – from 1957 to 1961.
Michael’s most ardent supporter, Con McCarthy, chairman of the West Cork Community Alliance, gave an insight into the successful campaign, saying: ‘It was very much dependent on community activists.
We are not a member of a political party, so we had to use ordinary community activists – such as those who serve on the boards of management of schools and parents’ associations.’
As PRO of the West Cork Community Alliance – an organisation that was established to fight for the retention of services in rural Ireland and for the betterment of the lives of ordinary people – Michael Collins had a 120-strong community of voluntary people willing to canvass on the doorsteps, free of charge.
Michael said: ‘None of them got any money, none of them got food or petrol allowances. I fully funded this campaign myself, because I didn’t want to be owned by anyone.’
The cost of the campaign is believed to have been in the region of €14,000 – a fund he said he saved for, and did not contain as much as a red cent from any other person.
In fact, Michael said he returned unsolicited donations, including a €500 cheque from one company because he was determined to be ‘a real independent’.
At the count centre last Saturday, Michael produced a crumpled white envelope from his back pocket. He said: ‘A woman gave me this the other day. She asked me to read it when I got a chance, but when I opened it, I saw that it contained €100 in cash – money that will be returned to the woman the minute I see her.’