Irish General Election 2011 Facts and Figures’ Golden Goose Awards 2011: The Winners

Adrian Kavanagh, 1 January 2012

The basis for judgement here is not simply the weight of votes won by a party or candidate, but the extent of improvement relative to a previous contest, the level of local competition from opposing parties/candidates and the impact that a candidate’s performance had on those of their constituency running mates or even on their party’s national prospects.

  • Best individual electoral performance by a Fine Gael candidate: Enda Kenny (Mayo), Peter Mathews (Dublin South), Sean Barrett (Dun Laoghaire), Regina Doherty (Meath East), Brendan Griffin (Kerry South)

2011 was good year for a number of Fine Gael candidates and there were many serious contenders for this category, including candidates such as Aine Collins (Cork North-West), Liam Twomey (Wexford), Michael Ring (Mayo), James Bannon (Longford-Westmeath) and Lucinda Creighton (Dublin South-East), in addition to the nominated candidates, as listed above. Of the nominated candidates, both Mathews and Griffin made strong debuts, with Mathews performance being the more notable probably, given that he entered the electoral contest relatively late in the day. Regina Doherty improved significantly on her 2007 electoral performance in Meath East to ensure two seats out of three for Fine Gael in that constituency – helped in no little part by an effective vote management strategy involving her running mate, Shane McEntee, equalled by that of the party in the Dun Laoghaire constituency where Sean Barrett worked well in managing the party vote to ensure the election of his running mate, Mary Mitchell-O’Connor. Barrett’s performance in Dun Laoghaire was probably only surpassed by his party leader, Enda Kenny, who topped the poll in Mayo with 17,472 first preference votes (23.6% of the first preference vote) and helped see the party gain another seat in that constituency to ensure Fine Gael in Mayo won four seats out of five, the first time this feat was ever achieved in an Irish general contest. Winner: Enda Kenny, Runner-Up: Sean Barrett.

  • Best individual electoral performance by a Labour candidate: Roisin Shortall (Dublin North West), Tommy Broughan (Dublin North East), Michael McNamara (Clare), Pat Rabbitte (Dublin South West), Michael D. Higgins (Presidential Election)

With the exception of the presidential election, most of the strong Labour performances in 2011 came in the Dublin general election constituencies with a number of very strong vote-winning performances by high-profile candidates in that region. Candidates such as Tommy Broughan, Joanna Tuffy, Pat Rabbitte and Roisin Shortall out-performed others such as Eamonn Gilmore and Joan Burton in terms of their ability to marry strong electoral performances with the ability to help ensure the election of running mates. Outside the capital, the stronger Labour performances probably were associated with the constituencies of Louth, Galway East, Meath East and Clare – of these, the most impressive performance was probably that of Michael McNamara who almost won ten times the number of votes that Labour won in Clare in 2007. But ultimately the strongest Labour performance in 2011 had to be Michael D. Higgins’ win in the presidential election, in the process amassing the highest ever Labour vote in a national election. Winner: Michael D. Higgins, Runner-Up: Roisin Shortall.

  • Best individual electoral performance by a Fianna Fail candidate: Michael McGrath (Cork South Central), Lisa Chambers (Mayo), David McGuinness (Dublin West by-election), Robert Troy (Longford-Westmeath), John Moloney (Laois-Offaly)

If the 2011 General Election was a good one for Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Fein and the independents, it most certainly was not a good one for Fianna Fail. Despite that, there were a number of credible electoral performances by Fianna Fail candidates in the general election, as well as a number of strong performances by party candidates in the Seanad elections. Particularly noteworthy were the performances of first-time candidates such as Lisa Chambers, who did well despite being put into the electoral contest relatively late in the day and in the face of a strong anti-Fianna Fail sentiment to win sufficient number of votes to help ensure the re-election of more experienced running mates. The best performance of the first-time candidates was undoubtedly that of Robert Troy in Longford-Westmeath who won the only Fianna Fail seat in this highly competitive constituency and this result probably just about edges out David McGuinness’ performance in the Dublin West by-election, when he finished a strong second to Patrick Nulty, as the best performance by a Fianna Fail candidate in 2011. Winner: Robert Troy, Runner-Up: David McGuinness.

  • Best individual electoral performance by a Sinn Fein candidate: Brian Stanley (Laois-Offaly), Kathryn Reilly (Cavan-Monaghan/Seanad), Sandra McLellan (Cork East), Jonathan O’Brien (Cork North-Central), Pearse Doherty (Donegal South-West)

There were strong performances for Sinn Fein in 2011 by a number of candidates who signficantly improved the party vote in their constituencies to win seats in areas outside of the traditional Sinn Fein Border and working class Dublin heartlands, including those by Michael Colreavy, Jonathan O’Brien, Brian Stanley and Sandra McLellan. Kathryn Reilly did well in her debut set of elections to almost win a second seat for Sinn Fein in Cavan-Monaghan and then win a third seat for the party in the Seanad elections in what was probably the most difficult panel contest for the party. The strongest vote won by a party candidate in 2011’s elections however was that of Pearse Doherty in Donegal South-West, where he took nearly one-third of the first preference votes. This strong performance came little more than two months following his win in the by-election in that constituency – a result that acted as the springboard for the party’s improved result in the general election. Winner: Pearse Doherty, Runner-Up: Jonathan O’Brien.

  • Best individual electoral performance by a United Left Alliance candidate: Seamus Healy (Tipperary South), Ruth Coppinger (Dublin West by-election), Joan Collins (Dublin South-Central), Claire Daly (Dublin North), Declan Bree (Sligo-North Leitrim)

The strong performances of Daly and Collins in breaking through very strong fields to win seats in Dublin North and Dublin South Central respectively were probably the individual standout performances of United Left Alliance candidates in 2011, although Seamus Healy also deserves note given that he won the biggest personal vote of any ULA candidate in the general election. Claire Daly also had to deal with an umpromising electoral boundary change affecting Dublin North which meant she lost part of her Swords base heading into the general election – for still managing to win a seat in 4-seat Dublin North despite this she just about edges out Joan Collins for this award. Winner: Claire Daly, Runner-Up: Joan Collins.

  • Best individual electoral performance by a non-party candidate: Stephen Donnelly (Wicklow), Shane Ross (Dublin South), Mick Wallace (Wexford), Luke Ming Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim), Catherine Murphy (Kildare North), Victor Boyhan (Seanad/Dun Laoghaire), Sean Gallagher (Presidential)

There was a notable performance by Stephen Donnelly in winning a seat in Wicklow while lacking the electoral base that other successful independent candidates in the general election. Sean Gallagher’s performance in the presidential election, despite the late collapse in his support level in the dying days of the campaign, was also highly noteworthy. But the strongest performance by an independent candidate was probably those of Shane Ross in Dublin South, where he won the highest vote of any candidate in a general election constituency despite the strong competition locally, and Luke Ming Flanagan, who took nearly one-fifth of the first preference votes in Roscommon-South Leitrim, a significant improvement on his last general election performance when he won just 779 votes in Longford-Roscommon in 2002. Ross just about edges this. Winner: Shane Ross, Runner-Up: Luke Ming Flanagan.

  • Best individual electoral performance by an election candidate: Michael D Higgins, Robert Troy, Shane Ross, Seamus Healy, Stephen Donnelly, Pearse Doherty, Roisin Shortall, Joan Collins, David McGuinness, Kathryn Reilly, Regina Doherty.

Michael D Higgins has a strong call on this award given his winning of the presidency, but he was helped by a weak Fine Gael campaign, a Fianna Fail no-show and the imploding campaigns of all his main rivals. On weight of vote numbers, Enda Kenny and Shane Ross would both be contenders, although the Taoiseach-elect was always going to poll well in Mayo this year while Dublin South has a history of awarding very large votes in election campaigns to individual candidates (think George Lee in 2009, Eithne Fitzgerald in 1992). Ultimately this award goes to a candidate who almost doubled his vote in a competitive constituency and who made a significant impact nationally in media debates, but also some months earlier had sparked a surge in his party’s fortunes with an excellent by-election performance. Winner: Pearse Doherty, Runner-Up: Enda Kenny.

  • Best individual electoral performance by a candidate who did not win a seat: Lorraine Higgins (Galway East/Seanad), Catherine Connolly (Galway West), John Brady (Wicklow), Pat Burton (Cork North-Central), Mary Fitzpatrick (Dublin Central/Seanad), Mary Moran (Louth), Seamus Walsh (Seanad: Cultural and Educational panel), Bobby Aylward (Carlow-Kilkenny) 

General Election 2011 was not as good an election as Labour has been expecting some months earlier head of the late Kenny Krusade and Doherty Drive, but there were some exceptional performances from some of their candidates, including those who missed out on seats and two of these vie for this award. Mary Moran, despite being added to the Labour ticket late in the day, polled well in north Louth and helped secure Ged Nash’s seat. But this award goes to a first time general election candidate who herself could have ended up in the Dail but for a handful of votes and without whose efforts in mopping up votes in South Galway and the Seanad trail Labour would ended up with one fewer Dail seats and probably one fewer seat in the Seanad elections. Winner: Lorraine Higgins, Runner-Up: Mary Moran.

  • Luckiest election candidate: Sean Kyne (Galway West), Cait Keane (Seanad), Colm Keaveney (Galway East), Billy Kelleher (Cork North-Central), Sean O Fearghail (Kildare South), Michael D. Higgins (Presidential)

In the 2011 contests, some candidates came very close to losing out on seats (in some cases by a handful of votes) while others were thankful to some lucky breaks with vote transfers or with electoral boundary changes or to weaker than anticipated local competition. Electoral boundary changes involving the transfers of rural areas in Cork North West and Cork East into Cork North Central played a role in Billy Kelleher retaining his seat (while possibly costing Fianna Fail a seat in Cork East), while Fine Gael and Labour’s decision to run just one candidate in Kildare South helped Sean O’Fearghail to retain his seat. But given that his winning of a seat in Galway West was dependent on him being a handful of votes ahead of Fidelma Healy-Eames on the penultimate count and an even smaller number of votes ahead of Catherine Connolly on the last count, Sean Kyne probably edges out this one. Winner: Sean Kyne, Runner-Up: Sean O Fearghail

  • Unluckiest election candidate: Mary Fitzpatrick (Dublin Central/Seanad), Catherine Connolly (Galway West), John Brady (Wicklow), Sean Gallagher (Presidential), Peter Burke (Longford-Westmeath/Seanad)

Given that she narrowly missed out on a seat in Dublin Central in the general election and then lost out narrowly in the Seanad election, the obvious winner here has to be Mary Fitzpatrick with Catherine Connolly as the runner-up given the narrow margin she lost out on a seat in Galway West by.

  • Best performance by a political party in a general election constituency: Fine Gael (Cavan-Monaghan), Fine Gael (Dublin South), Labour (Dublin North-West), Fine Gael (Dun Laoghaire), Fine Gael (Mayo)

It is a tough call here between a number of Fine Gael constituency performances. The Mayo performance in which the party took four out of five seats would seem an obvious contender here, but the gaining of an extra seat here was not as big an ask as the task facing the party in the other nominated constituencies. Ultimately, given the strength of the Ross vote and other strong competition in the constituency and given that the third Fine Gael candidate was a first-time election contender who was added to the ticket relatively late in the day, I’d have to give this one to Fine Gael (Dublin South) with the party’s managing of the vote in Cavan-Monaghan coming a close second just ahead of the Fine Gael performance in Dun Laoghaire. Winner: Fine Gael (Dublin South), Runner-Up: Fine Gael (Cavan-Monaghan).

  • Best performance by a political party in a national contest: Fianna Fail (Seanad Election), Labour (Presidential Election), Fine Gael (General Election), Labour (General Election), Sinn Fein (Presidential Election)

In this category, I’d have to go for Fine Gael (General Election) as the winner, with a tie for Runner-Up between Fianna Fail (Seanad Election) and Labour (Presidential Election).

  • Most surprising electoral result: Late swing from Gallagher to Higgins in the Presidential Election, Robert Troy winning seat in Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail Seanad performance, extent of Fianna Fail wipeout in the general election, Colm Keaveney wins Labour seat in Galway East

Given that the presidential election looked like being an easy victory for Sean Gallagher only a few days before the presidential election took place, the winner here has to be the late swing from Sean Gallagher to Michael D Higgins in the Presidential Election.

  • Most surprising event to happen during an electoral campaign: Gallagher surge in polls in middle of presidential election campaign, Mary Moran builds up strong Labour vote base in north Louth in space of few weeks, Fine Gael push towards the overall majority in opinion polls in run up to election day. 

There were many incidents of an electoral manner that stunned commentators during 2011 but the one that surprised me the most was the Sean Gallagher surge in the polls in the middle of presidential election campaign

  • Biggest electoral miscalculation ahead of an election campaign: Fine Gael presidential election strategy, Fine Gael and Labour only running one candidate in Kildare South, the Labhras O Murchu saga and Fianna Fail’s approach to the presidential election, Fine Gael running only one candidate in Dublin North-East, Fianna Fail and Reshufflegate ahead of calling of the general election

Fine Gael’s approach to the presidential election is a strong contender here, but the chaos ensuing in Brian Cowen’s failed attempt at a cabinet reshuffle probably put the nail in the Fianna Fail coffin for the general election and takes this one. Winner: Fianna Fail and Reshufflegate ahead of calling of the election

  • Biggest electoral miscalculation during, or after, an election campaign: Dick Roche calling for a recount in Wicklow, Sean Gallagher not “doing an Enda” on night of Frontline debate, Fine Gael and Labour attacking each other in opening weeks of General Election 2011 campaign, the Martin List, Fine Gael making too many promises during general election campaign, Labour making too many promises during general election campaign, Labour going into government after general election

Although understandable from the point of view of Fine Gael scenting the possibility of single-party government/Labour pushing to ensure the party would win enough seats to ensure they would be in government, the raft of late election promises by the two current government parties were, to put it mildly, misguided and formed the basis for a raft of lost party whips in late 2011. But ultimately the winner here has to be Dick Roche calling for a recount in Wicklow

  • Best use of internet/social media by an election candidate: Dylan Haskins (Dublin South East), Lorraine Higgins (Galway East), John Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny), Dan Boyle (Cork South-Central), Joanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid-West)

No real contest here, as Dylan Haskins brought the use of social media to a new level in the general election contest. All the other nominees also shone in terms of their use of social media this year with veteran social media user Dan Boyle just edging first-time general/Seanad election candidate, Lorraine Higgins for the silver here. Winner: Dylan Haskins, Runner-Up: Dan Boyle.

  • Best use of internet/social media to comment on/cover the 2011 elections by a non-politician:, The Irish Election Literature blog,, The, Maman Poulet

2011 saw a mushrooming of politics related sites, with a good mix of new sites and old reliables (such as adding to the electoral experience on the worldwide web. This was a close category (surprise, surprise) but ultimately boiled down to a site that provided an interesting perspective on the election and a constant range of updated material, the excellent Irish Election Literature blog. Winner: Irish Election Literature blog, Runner-up:

  • Best use of tweeting/Twitter by an election candidate: Dennis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim), Paul Gogarty (Dublin Mid-West), Dan Boyle (Cork South-Central/Seanad), Aodhán Ó Riordain (Dublin North-Central), Alan Farrell (Dublin North)

Some good tweets from the politicians ahead of, and during the, 2011 campaigns with a number of candidates from other parties catching up with the Greens in terms of Twitter-pact – out of this group, Aodhán Ó Riordain probably just edges out Alan Farrell. But ultimately this award must go to the man who made Irish electoral history by becoming the first person to concede the loss of his seat by Twitter. Winner: Paul Gogarty, Runner-Up: Aodhán Ó Riordain.

  • Best use of tweeting/Twitter to comment on the 2011 elections by someone who was not an election candidate: Ken Curtin, Suzy Byrne, Johnny Fallon, Richard Columb, Ryan Meade, Andrea Pappin, Valerie McDermott

There was some great tweeting in this category from a range of tweeters, who by and large proved themselves capable of having good political arguments in the Twitterverse and were able to take on board other views irrespective of their own political leanings or party affiliations. Just edging out the rest of a quality field by a narrow margin were Suzy (for political information) and Johnny (for good quality arguments) – I’m going to cop out here and declare this one a tie! Winner (tie): Suzy Byrne/Johnny Fallon.

  • Best use of tweeting/Twitter to comment on the 2011 elections by an academic: Elaine Byrne, Fiona Buckley, Jennifer Kavanagh, Ciaran McMahon, David Farrell, Eoin O’Malley, Theresa Reidy, Jane Suiter, Gary Murphy

Erm, as I just realised I have to sit opposite most of the nominees at Political Studies Association of Ireland committee meetings, I think I will cop out here and declare this category a Tie.

  • AK’s favourite radio/TV interviewer in relation to 2011 elections’ media coverage: Jonathan Healy (Newstalk), Mary Wilson (RTE), Claire Byrne (RTE), George Hook (Newstalk), Will Faulkner (Midlands Radio 3)

There are many great TV/radio broadcasters, but a number of those who I’ve personally enjoyed being interviewed/grilled by are listed above, including both national and local media personnel. The overall winner for me (and, ahem, nothing here to do with a Laois bias) has to be the excellent Claire Byrne, with Jonathan Healy just edging out Mary Wilson for second. Winner: Claire Byrne, Runner-Up: Jonathan Healy

Well done to the winners – here’s to 2014!


About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer at the Maynooth University Department of Geography. Email:
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