‘First constituency for sixty years to return two independents’
There was a major boundary change here with a population of 5,098 around Castleisland and Cordal transferred from the old Kerry North constituency. It remains a three seat constituency.
Everything changed in Kerry South, as one incumbent retired and the other two were defeated. Jackie Healy-Rae hung up his tartan cap after 14 years and handed over the mantle to his son Michael, who proved equally adept at enunciating the well-rehearsed ‘I am not a gombeen politician and it is disrespectful to the people of Kerry for the Dublin media to say so’ line. It worked for his father and it worked for him – though, to establish that he is his own man, his cap of choice is usually black.
The sole Fianna Fail candidate was John O’Donoghue, who had fought the 2007 campaign as a senior government minister. Much had changed since; he had first been shuffled off against his will to the post of Ceann Comhairle and had then become the first occupant of that office to have to stand down after the disclosure of his remarkable expenses claims. These were shaky credentials in an election where Fianna Fail itself was on the ropes, and O’Donoghue did not last beyond the fourth count. His departure speech, claiming credit for obtaining the funding for the building in which the votes were counted, was eloquent indeed.
Fine Gael, often seatless in this constituency, won more votes than Fianna Fail and Labour combined, but not quite enough for two seats. Tom Sheahan, who had won a seat for Fine Gael in 2007 after the party had been unrepresented here since 1987, was surprisingly unseated by his youthful running mate Brendan Griffin, who gained national publicity by promising to take only half of a TD’s salary if elected, a pledge he found himself unexpectedly called upon to live up to.
In contrast, the Labour vote actually dropped, the only constituency in the country where this happened, and a marked contrast to the Labour surge in North Kerry.
With Fianna Fail and Labour struggling, Independents won 42 per cent of the votes, and Kerry South became the first constituency for sixty years to return two independents. Joining Michael Healy-Rae in the 31st Dáil was Tom Fleming, who, as a Fianna Fail candidate, had finished a close runner-up in both 2002 and 2007 and who was now aided by the transfer of a sizeable pocket of votes around Castleisland, close to his own base of Scartaglin, into Kerry South. Fianna Fail may regret not selecting Fleming as its sole candidate; as it was, Kerry became yet another county left without a Fianna Fail TD.