“A week is a long time in politics,” former British prime minister Harold Wilson famously said. Four years even longer and in Mayo the change was a lot more dramatic than most would have expected from the last time they stood in the count centre in the Royal Theatre for a general election count. The blue surge over the country turned into a tidal wave in Mayo, with four of the five seats going to Fine Gael. The four Fine Gael candidates took 58.96 per cent of the first preference vote in the county, which translates into 48,170 first preference votes. That is an increase of 5.13 per cent from 2007 or 9,924 votes.
Such was the popularity of the party that both Enda Kenny and Michael Ring broke through the quota with ease on the first count. Their running mates, outgoing TD John O’Mahony and Michelle Mulherin, who were also on the ticket in 2007, both also saw their first preference vote go up from four years ago, with O’Mahony going from 6,869 first preferences to 8,667. Mulherin saw a dramatic surge from 5,428 votes to 8,851, an increase of well over 3,000 first preference votes. The Fine Gael vote management plan in which they targeted getting the four seats, could not have worked out better. Their strategic placing of candidates in areas, and the dividing up of locations, along with their party orders for the ranking of candidates worked to the tee.
As for the outgoing government party, how utterly things have changed in the space of four years. In 2007 they ran three candidates along with an Independent Beverly Flynn who was soon welcomed back into the party fold after the election. This time around they could only muster outgoing Minister of State Dara Calleary for a long time until Lisa Chambers put herself forward only a matter of weeks before the election. The soldiers of destiny were destined for a beating nationwide, but in Mayo they took an especially large one. They saw their share of the first preference vote drop by 17.88 per cent, when you include Beverly Flynn who was an outgoing Fianna Fáil TD at the end of the Dáil term. That percentage drop represented 12,318 votes or just a fraction south of a quota to elect someone. While they did only have two candidates this time and Dara Calleary did see his personal vote rise from 7,225 in 2007 to 8,557, it still was a poor showing, considering he was the only Fianna Fáil candidate with a credible chance of claiming a seat. Calleary did retain the seat and increase his vote, but he did slip behind newly elected TD Michelle Mulherin in the overall poll which saw her poll 294 more votes than he. While it may seem a small number, it has to be put in the context that Calleary was the Fianna Fáil standard bearer in Mayo, and is seen as one of the people who will play a leading role in trying to bring the party back to life, while Mulherin was the person that Fine Gael were hoping would pick up the fourth seat. She was eventually elected ahead of both Calleary and John O’Mahony, who was defending his seat when the dust settled early on Sunday. Fianna Fáil and Calleary will have been relieved to hold on to his seat. However the result of newcomer Lisa Chambers does offer some hope for the future for the party. Chambers picked up 3,343 first preference votes and hung in the competition until the fifth count when she was eliminated. For a candidate who entered the race late with little or no profile outside of the party she performed very well and has marked herself out as a potential future candidate. With local elections scheduled for three years time, it will offer her a chance to contest another election and potentially win the contest before she throws her hat into a general election for a second time.
For a simple comparison to how the two major parties going into the election compared; Fine Gael received 48,170 first preference votes, Fianna Fáil received 11,920, a difference of 36,250 votes in Mayo. In 2007 there were 38,246 first preference votes cast for Fine Gael compared to 24,238 for Fianna Fáil, a difference of 14,008. In four years Fine Gael have increased their first preference vote advantage over Fianna Fáil by 22,242 first preference votes. While there were exceptional circumstances in Mayo with the likelihood of Enda Kenny becoming taoiseach, there is still a major hill for Fianna Fáil to climb to get back to the heady days of 1992 when there were two constituencies in Mayo, Fianna Fáil picked up four of the six seats with Fine Gael only picking up two.