Pat Casey Snr, Richard O’Donoghue TD and Pat Casey Jnr – Photo John Mortell. – Limerick County Count.

By Matt O’Callaghan
From the time the first boxes were opened at the Limerick County constituency count, it was clear that the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael monopoly was under serious threat. As the first returns from the tallymen were studied and collated a picture of twin challenge emerged in the shape of Independent candidate Richard O’Donoghue and Sinn Fein’s Seighin O’Ceallaigh.
O’Ceallaigh’s strong showing was the lesser surprise given what was happening round the country and the huge surge to his party. Richard O’Donoghue who ran as an Independent candidate four years ago saw his share of the vote swell from 6.4% in 2016 to 13.1% last Saturday. O’Donoghue picked up a share of the votes of fellow Independent in 2016 Emmett O’Brien and locally the votes of James Heffernan who ran for the Social Democrats in 2016 when he polled 3,270.
It was no surprise then that the duo were in a dog fight for the last seat which O’Donoghue won after overtaking O’Ceallaigh in the final two counts.
Fine Gael through their two outgoing Deputies, Junior minister Patrick O’Donovan and Tom Neville hoovered up 32.66% of the first preference vote which rep-resented a drop on party’s 37.1% share four years ago.
Fianna Fáil registered a slight increase in their share of the vote from 27.6% in 2016 when they ran just one candidate to 29.21% claimed by the Collins namesakes on this occasion.
Sinn Féin on this occasion exactly doubled their vote from 71/2% to 15% while the Independents vote dropped from 18.5% to 14.77% this time explained mainly by the absence of the second strong Independent Councillor Emmett O’Brien.
Outgoing Junior Minister Patrick O’Donovan with 9,288 votes topped the poll, just one of two from the party to do so nationally at this General Election, the other being outgoing Minster Michael Ring in Mayo. His running mate Tom Neville’s share of the vote dropped from 18% to 12% and his chances of retaining his seat was in peril as the counts proceeded and he was eventually eliminated after the fourth count.
Niall Collins on 8,466 came in second after seeing his vote drop by 3,888 votes because the party ran a second candidate on this occasion. His running mate and unrelated namesake Michael Collins was a latecomer to the race and polled a very healthy 5,150 votes and stayed in the hunt until the third count.
Claire Keating of the Green Party polled just over 2,500 votes or 5.4% share which was a big increase on the less than the 1% the party picked up four years earlier.
Aontú who come from the Sinn Fein gene poll contested Limerick County for the first time and the party’s candidate Conor O’Donoghue picked up over 700 votes.
Renua and the Irish Freedom parties were also in the field but found little traction with the electorate of what is one of the country’s most traditional constituencies, though that may be no more.
A late arrival to the race Robert O’Donnell standing as an Independent polled over 400 votes.
Niall Collins was first past the quota of 11,523 in the fourth count following the elimination of his running mate, Michael Collins.
It took the exclusion of outgoing Deputy Tom Neville and the distribution of his votes to see Patrick O’Donovan over the line. In the same fifth count, Neville’s votes saw Richard O’Donoghue overtake and pass Seighin O’Ceallaigh for the first time after a ding dong battle between the duo in the earlier counts. O’Donoghue was eight votes ahead going into the final count, the distribution of O’Donovan’s surplus which was created from Neville’s votes. The Indep-endent candidate picked up the lion’s share, a whopping 1,733 to romp home to the 33rd Dáil. In the final count, Sinn Féin proved less transfer friendly to votes from the Government party picking up just 376 votes.
The verdict of the citizenry of Limerick County of which 64.4% of them cast their votes is that Niall Collins, Fianna Fáil, Patrick O’Donovan, Fine Gael and Richard O’Donoghue, Independent will be their representatives in the new Dáil.