‘Only one seat changed hands as FF vote fell by 30%’
A revision of the constituency boundary here saw a population of 4,276 in the former Roscrea No.2 Rural District transferred to Tipperary North. It retained its five seats.
When Brian Cowen, who took over 19,000 first preferences in 2007, announced on 31 January that he would not be contesting the 2011 election, other parties immediately fixed covetous eyes on one if not two of the 3 seats that FF had won at every election since 1977.
In the event only one seat changed hands in Laois–Offaly. Although the Fianna Fail vote dropped by virtually 30 per cent, the party held two of its seats, making this the only constituency in the country, other than the new leader’s Cork South Central, where it won more than one seat. The party literature here looked like it used to in better days, featuring all the candidates and asking people to ‘Vote 1, 2, 3 in order of your choice’, rather than the now more common format of candidate advertisements asking people to ‘Vote No 1 for Me’ with the names of any running mate(s) in tiny print at the bottom. The Taoiseach was replaced on the ticket by his brother Barry, who polled more than 8,000 first preferences and retained the family seat quite comfortably. Seán Fleming had been given no advancement by either Bertie Ahern or Brian Cowen, and this may now have stood to his advantage as he stayed ahead of junior minister John Moloney, his fellow Laois Fianna Fail TD, to return to the Dáil for a fourth term in which he finally has a front-bench position.
Fine Gael had hoped to win three seats here for the first time since 1973, but its vote rose by less than the national average and it was never in the running for the last seat. It retained its existing two seats without difficulty, the retiring Olwyn Enright being succeeded by Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, based in Birr like Enright herself. Charlie Flanagan headed the poll as his father used to do for many years, but, just as in 1994, he had made the mistake of expressing no confidence in his party leader nine months before that leader became Taoiseach, and despite his years of service on the opposition front bench he found himself on the back-benches when the party entered government.
The seat lost by Fianna Fail was taken by Sinn Fein’s Brian Stanley, who almost trebled his 2007 vote to win the party’s first seat here since independence. He owed this partly to his ability, not shared by all Sinn Fein candidates, to attract transfers, picking up over 3,700 from first count to last and thus widening his lead over the only serious challenger, John Whelan of Labour. Whelan polled respectably given the fallout over his selection as the Labour candidate, but the dispute cannot have helped.
Other candidates polled nearly 20 per cent of the votes between them, but this was spread among 12 candidates. Dissident Fianna Failer John Foley and county councillor John Leahy both topped 4,000 first preferences, but in the end most of their votes transferred back to the major party candidates.