It came at around lunchtime on Sunday, four hours into the count that day, and after a marathon 13 hour count the day before - the first Galway West TD of the 31st Dáil was finally declared elected.
Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív, unlike in 2002 and 2007, did not top the poll. That honour went to Labour’s Derek Nolan. Dep Ó Cuív’s first preference vote of 7,441 was down from 9,645 four years ago, but there was consolation for the Connemara based TD in that his combined vote of 11,138 saw him take the first seat.
As the announcement drew near, Dep Ó Cuív’s family and supporters drew around him in large numbers, and there was much cheering as he was hoisted into the air after returning officer Marian Chambers Higgins deemed him elected.
Yet one quote from a man standing nearby, despite its humour, captured the deeper significance of what we were seeing.
“It’s like The Last Of The Mohicans, with Éamon Ó Cuív. I never thought I’d see a Mohican,” he said. Yes Dep Ó Cuív was the last of his kind left in Galway West and his election was one of the few bright spots in what will otherwise go down as Fianna Fáil’s annus horribilis.
“I am very pleased to get elected comfortably,” Dep Ó Cuív told me during our Sunday afternoon interview. “In relation to the election in other parts of the country we have done well here. We have held our seat, I have taken the first one so I am pleased overall.”
By mid-afternoon on Sunday, Fianna Fáil was at a paltry 16 seats, with just 25 left to count. The party eventually secured a paltry 20, only five more than the Independents and just six ahead of Sinn Féin. They are barely the third largest party in the State.
“We were aware from the polls that it was going to be a nightmare election for Fianna Fáil,” Dep Ó Cuív said. “It was made more difficult by the difficult and unpopular decisions we had to make, but which are in the long term interests of the country.”
Yet this is a point so many dispute. Were these so-called ‘hard decisions’ really in the best interests of the State, or were they decisions made to protect the social, political, and business elite? If anything it seemed Fianna Fáil had turned away from the ordinary people and become the party of the ‘fat cats’, the speculators, and the vested interests.
“I wouldn’t agree that we have turned away from people,” says Dep Ó Cuív. “People who know me know I am available morning, noon, and night and there are many who would say Fianna Fáil TDs are too attentive to the minor issues, but they are very very important and politics is about making people’s lives better.”
The bank guarantee and the subsequent bailouts have seen billions put into the financial institutions which played such a major role in destroying our economy. For the public it is galling to see our money disappearing into dead, zombie, banks. Dep Ó Cuív however defends the fateful decision of September 2008.
“The question we faced was ‘Do you defend the deposit holders who put money into the banks in good faith?’ We had no option but to defend the deposit holders - people who had put money into pension plans, life insurance - and that was why we put in the guarantee.
“If we didn’t put in that money the consequences would have been horrendous and people would have criticised us for not doing that. If we did not put in the guarantee we would have had to pay out €81 billion and that is more than we have had to put into the banks. Indeed all parties in the Dáil - Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin - all supported the principle of the bank guarantee.”
Following its execution in Election 2011 after trial by the Irish electorate, Fianna Fáilm must begin the process of not only rebuilding itself, but asking what does it stand for and what are its values.
Indeed, what would Éamon deValera, the man who founded the party in 1926, say if he saw it now? Would he feel devastation at the low level of support or would he feel that the Irish people did the right thing in rejecting a party that prized corporatism, the wealthy, the social elite, and power for powers sake, above defending the rights of the working class people and rural communities - the two constituencies Fianna Fáil originally drew its support from?
“There is no answer to a question that is hypothetical, but it is one I get asked a lot,” Dep Ó Cuív says. “He lived in the circumstances of his time and I live in the circumstances of mine.
“We have to look at this at all levels. We have to look at the organisation at national and local level, we have to look hard at our policies, and we have to look again at something that Fianna Fáil was once very good at - keeping on top of the small issues like potholes, water services, that affect people’s lives on a day to day basis.”