‘Former Fianna Fail TD wins seat after shedding party colours’
There were no boundary changes to this three-seat constituency since 2007. Indeed Fianna Fail’s achievement that year when it took two of the three seats, ousting left-wing independent Séamus Healy, was one of the surprises of that election. In 2011 Healy, who was now part of the United Left Alliance, was certain to regain his seat, and Fine Gael incumbent Tom Hayes was equally certain to retain his.
That left just one seat between four credible contenders: Fianna Fail junior minister Martin Mansergh, Labour senator Phil Prendergast, Fine Gael’s second candidate Michael Murphy, and Mattie McGrath. McGrath had been elected for Fianna Fail in 2007, but had rapidly acquired maverick status, and in June 2010 he lost the party whip, becoming an independent TD, for voting against the government bill banning stag-hunting. At the end of January 2011 he left Fianna Fail itself and announced that he would be standing as an independent.
Martin Mansergh, whose PhD thesis was on the history of 18th century France on the eve of the Revolution, may have sensed the upheaval that was about to happen, though his assertion on RTE radio on election count day that this was ‘not a wipe-out’ for Fianna Fáil had a ring of the Marie Antoinette about it. Sure enough, as the tumbrils left the counting centre and rolled through the streets of Clonmel, it was Dr Mansergh’s Dáil career that they bore away.
Mansergh’s elimination on the final count took Mattie McGrath comfortably into the third seat. Michael Murphy did better than predicted and finished runner-up, but Labour’s performance was disappointing, its vote up only 2 per cent on 2007 compared with the national swing of 9 per cent. For Phil Prendergast, though, there was significant consolation: the European Parliament seat that Labour won in the South constituency in 2009 came to her, as a result of the election of MEP Alan Kelly in Tipperary North.