Five years and a month after Declan Ganley chaired the Libertas Forum to discuss the European Constitution during Ireland’s presidency of the European Union, he walked off the political stage, as the sun began to set outside the count centre for the North West Constituency in Castlebar.
Surrounded by a flash of cameras and a fan of microphones, the Libertas founder said his farewell to public life: “I have said that I would seek a mandate from the people and it’s pretty clear that I did not get the mandate from the people here. I can take No for answer, I’m a democrat and I love my country.”
Mr Ganley went on to thank the people around him who supported him during the campaign which saw him get 67,638 first preference votes.
“I just want to say thank you to all the people who gave me their number one votes,” he said. “I also want to thank all the volunteers across the county and the country. It was a hard fought fight and a uphill battle but we had the best and the brightest in Ireland with us.”
Mr Ganley whose campaign against the Lisbon Treaty was seen as one of the major factors in getting it defeated the first time around, also declared that he would not be taking any part in the campaign on the second referendum on the issue which is expected to be announced in the near future.
“I will not be involved in the second Lisbon campaign,” he said. “I’ve said that upfront. I’ve got to get back to work. When one door closes another one opens.”
Mr Ganley’s decision to concede the race ended almost a full day after the counting process had begun. The count was suspended late on Sunday night by returning officer Kieran McDermott after Mr Ganley told him he had been informed that a whole bin of his first preference votes had been wrongly allocated to another candidate.
Mr McDermott acceded to his request for a full re-check of the ballot papers. The recheck began on Monday at 9am and was not completed until 5.30pm, when the recheck was completed it turned out that in fact Mr Ganley had been wrongly allocated 3,000 first preference votes that belonged to Independent candidate Fiachra O’Luain.
The re-check saw Mr Ganley’s first preference poll fall from 70,638 to 67,638 and fall further behind the three front runners and later elected candidates, MEP Jim Higgins, Marian Harkin, and Pat The Cope Gallagher.
Ms Harkin was the winner in the popular poll taking an astounding 84,813 first preference votes to cement her position in the Parliament. Dep Gallagher, a late addition to the Fianna Fáil ticket when sitting MEP Séan Ó Neachtain was forced to withdraw from the race, took 82,643 first preference votes, with Mayo-based MEP Jim Higgins taking 80,093 number ones.
MEP Higgins in particular was very happy to retain his seat and beat off Declan Ganley’s challenge.
“We knew all along it was going to be won from the polls and that has been maintained,” he said, “but the icing on the cake is that Libertas are not taking a seat here. Declan Ganley said in this campaign that Libertas would take 100 seats, the leader of Libertas didn’t take a seat.”
MEP Higgins and Mr Ganley had a number of comings together on the course of the campaign and the former teacher was happy to have got the better of the Libertas leader.
“He attacked me from the outset of the campaign,” MEP Higgins said. “In fact threatened me with court proceedings in the high court, and I told him that I would look forward to seeing him in the high court and that challenge still stands.
“Apart from that the campaign became very nasty. Normally we have Fine Gael, Labour, and Fianna Fáil debate the different issues on policy. I never came across the dirty campaign that was organised and driven by Declan Ganley. I have no problem debating policy, but the negative personality thrust of the Ganley campaign is something I have never seen before and I’ve been in politics since 1979. I hope Declan will have learned a lesson that he may be a very good business man but politics is a different sphere and people don't like negative personal politics.”
Having been give a mandate for five more years by the people of the North West Constituency, there is one major issue that MEP Higgins wants on the table.
“The big thing is to put the Irish economy front and central and get the European Union behind the Irish economy because it is a catastrophe at the moment,” he said. “If we want to revive the Irish economy we have to be at the heart of Europe. If people had backed Mr Ganley then we would be at the margins of Europe.”