‘First woman in 59 years elected in Waterford’
There were no changes to the boundaries of this four-seat constituency that compromises almost the entire county of Waterford, excluding only a population of 1,500 north of the Comeragh Mountains.
After Martin Cullen moved from the PDs to Fianna Fail in 1994 this became one of the most predictable constituencies in the country, consistently returning 2 Fianna Fail TDs and 1 each from Fine Gael and Labour.
In 2011 it was clear that Fine Gael would advance to two seats, and it duly did. Maverick John Deasy headed the poll, and an even divide of the Fine Gael vote ensured that running mate Paudie Coffey was not far behind.
Waterford, despite its urban centres, has never been a Labour stronghold. When Tom Kyne won a seat here in 1948 he became the first Labour TD for 25 years, and when he retired in 1977 it took the party 12 years to regain the seat through Brian O’Shea. With O’Shea now retiring himself, there was some concern that the seat could be lost, but the national swing to the party ensured that it was not. Waterford city councillor Séamus Ryan was favourite to take the seat, but he was outpolled by Ciara Conway, who took a seat despite the competition in her Dungarvan base from poll-topper Deasy, being aided by strong Tramore connections. She became the first woman to represent the constituency since the death of Bridget Mary Redmond in 1952.
The main excitement lay in the race for the final seat. With Cullen’s retirement due to ill-health in March 2010, Waterford-based Brendan Kenneally – son and grandson of TDs, and not to be confused with the poet of similar name – was the sole Fianna Fail candidate. Even though the party vote share dropped by a massive 32 percentage points, the fifth largest in the country, it seemed that he had a chance, as on first preferences he was over 2,000 votes ahead of his two rivals. However, the main challenger turned out not to be Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane, who might have lacked the transfer-friendliness to overhaul Kenneally, but John Halligan, a Waterford city councillor who had run twice with little success for the Workers’ Party. Now running as an independent, Halligan trebled his first preference vote, and with the aid of over 2,000 transfers on Cullinane’s elimination he sailed past Kenneally to take the final seat with nearly 1,000 votes to spare.