TAKING 8,572 votes in the first count, Michael McNamara became the first Labour party TD to be elected in Clare since 1992, ending a run of three barren general elections.
Before last Friday’s ballot, many gave him a chance of taking the final seat but against the odds, the Scariff man took the second one, something even he didn’t see coming. “Up to today I wouldn’t have expected to come second. I predicted coming third in The Clare Champion and that was cheeky,” he acknowledged in the early hours of Sunday morning, shortly after reaching the quota.
However, he did say he had got good feedback on the campaign trail and felt he was in with a shout of a seat. “To be honest, we were getting a very good reception. We had a huge team out there and I’m very grateful to everyone who came out in fairly horrible weather conditions and campaigned. I’m also very grateful to everyone who answered a knock on their door.”
The election will go down in history for the massive losses sustained by Fianna Fáil around the country. In Clare, the party’s share of the vote halved, dipping to 22% and the Soldiers of Destiny have been reduced to just one seat, something that would have been unthinkable in previous elections.
It is perhaps indicative of how far they have fallen and how far they are from taking power, that Deputy McNamara paid tribute to the party on Saturday night. “Fianna Fáil have a very proud past and they have done a lot of great things in this country. Many of the social democratic achievements in this State have been achieved by the Fianna Fáil party and that’s something I think we need to recognise. The people have spoken but I certainly wouldn’t want to ever dance on their graves. For one thing, they aren’t dead or anything near it.”
Upon hearing that Michael McNamara was running in the 2009 European elections, some thought that his namesake, the former Clare hurling manager, had entered politics, so low was the rookie candidate’s profile.
However, he went on to garner a very credible 12,744 votes, something that gave him a base for the General Election.
Deputy McNamara said he didn’t view that first campaign as a stepping stone and that he stood because he felt some issues needed to be addressed. “I honestly felt that reform of our political system was very important then and that was one of the issues I ran on. I also felt that we as a country weren’t paying enough attention to European issues and that they weren’t being debated enough during the European campaign.”
He says events since, particularly Ireland tapping the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism, have shown the importance of Europe.
Deputy McNamara also said the campaigning in advance of last Friday’s ballot was very different to the work put in prior to the 2009 European election.
“Times are different. A year and a half ago I kind of foresaw what was coming down the tracks but a lot of people didn’t foresee it or maybe didn’t want to foresee it. From that perspective it was different but it’s also a different type of campaign. For European elections you just attend public events and canvass in shopping centres, etc. You’re not knocking on someone’s door when they want to be watching Coronation Street or when they’re putting their kids to bed on a wet night, when the last thing they want to see coming in their door is a wet umbrella.”
He acknowledged being left exhausted by the campaign. “It’s very hard but it wasn’t just hard for me, it was hard for my supporters and I’m sure it was very hard for all of the other 15 candidates in the field and their supporters too. I think it’s harder than people sometimes realise, other than those who have fought an election or been involved in an election campaign.”
In the past, Deputy McNamara has worked as a human rights lawyer with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and with the United Nations in Afghanistan. His election marks the start of another distinct phase in his life but on Saturday evening, he said he hadn’t really thought about the personal upheaval that will ensue.
“I really fought harder for this than I ever fought for anything in my life and I haven’t looked beyond tomorrow,” he concluded.