Year of the Wallace - 2011 revisited
Published 25/02/2016 | 00:00
The 2011 general election in Wexford will go down in history as the one where an independent not only upset the apple cart, but smashed it into a million pieces.
It was truly The Year of the Wallace.
With Ferrycarrig Park and Wexford Youths, Mick Wallace had achieved what many said simply couldn't be done in a county with no recent League of Ireland history. With his election performance, he pulled off an even bigger miracle.
It wasn't so much the fact that the builder from Wellingtonbridge topped the poll, but the manner in which he did it - 13,329 first preferences, almost a thousand over quota, and over two thousand ahead of Labour's Brendan Howlin.
Roughly one in six people who voted in the Wexford Constituency in the 2011 General Election gave their vote to Mick Wallace.
We're not comparing like with like, but it was the biggest first preference vote in Wexford since the December 1945 by-election when Brendan Corish polled over 16,000 votes - in excess of 50 per cent of the valid poll - to take the seat left vacant after the death of his father Richard.
Mick Wallace's demolition of the Labour/FG/FF stranglehold was remarkable. During the course of a brief campaign, he had made it clear there would be no promises to the electorate, except a pledge that there would never be local clinics, ever. But it was his time and Wexford was sold.
His huge vote ensured election on the first count with over 700 votes to spare, and also caused a ripple effect that had some candidates sweating it out for many hours.
As Mick Wallace, in trademark pink, celebrated with supporters at the Wexford count centre in St. Joseph's on that cold February day in 2011, others buried their heads in their hands in the agony of defeat, shellshocked by the pink wave that had discarded them in its wake.
Outgoing TD Sean Connick, from New Ross, was a casualty of both Wallace and the nationwide heave against Fianna Fail, his vote falling almost a third from 2007.
It could be said that Fine Gael's Michael D'Arcy was even more unfortunate. He was ahead of running mate Paul Kehoe after the first count, but lost his seat on transfers as Liam Twomey and Kehoe, in that order, took the fourth and fifth seats for Fine Gael on the seventh count without reaching the quota.
To rub salt in D'Arcy's wound, his 8,418 first preference votes are the most any candidate in the Wexford constituency has ever received without winning a seat.
Fianna Fail veteran John Browne bucked the national trend. As party colleagues around the country were battered by the weight of public opinion, Browne polled a health 7,352 first preferences. But he had to endure a few hours of waiting as that still left him trailing in sixth, over 1,000 votes behind D'Arcy.
The distribution of Sean Connick's vote after his elimination in the sixth count sealed the deal for his FF colleague from Enniscorthy and brought Browne over the line, comfortably ahead of the Fine Gael trio.
It could all have been so very different without the man in pink.
If Mick Wallace hadn't entered the race, it's conceivable Fine Gael could have taken three of the five seats. The party's Director of Elections in Wexford, New Ross solicitor Martin Lawlor, said after the election that to land three seats they needed 'between 38 and 40% of the first preference vote'. As it was, they fell short at just under 34.5%.
Nobody outside of Wallace, Howlin, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, was in with a realistic chance after the first count.
It was the first time in eight elections that Brendan Howlin had a running mate, and while Pat Cody (who sadly passed away in 2013) did well to attract 4,457 first preferences, it never put him in a position to threaten. When Cody was eliminated, Howlin was elected on the fourth count after picking up the lion's share of the votes distributed (2,852 of 4,752).
Sinn Fein's share of the vote was slighly down on the 2007 election, but their leading contender this time out, Wexford councillor Anthony Kelly, took a 5.8% share of the vote with 4,353 first preferences and managed to survive elimination until the fourth count.
Those who believe gender quotas are not the answer for women in Irish politics should take a cold hard look at Wexford in 2011. Without the incentive of the quotas, there was just one female candidate among the 14 on the ballot paper; and without party backing or the resources to mount a serious campaign, Siobhan Roseingrave struggled.