By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The bloodletting in a most dramatic general election has seen some of the country’s best known names sidelined in a series of humiliating defeats.
The impact of the carnage was most pronounced in Fine Gael. It suffered disastrous losses around the country and particularly in the greater Dublin area, where the tide went out for the party and left them with just three TDs out of 12.
A shellshocked Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan moved quickly to resign, take responsibility for the debacle and hand over to a new leader.
The dilemma for the party was that most of the potential leaders-in-waiting had been axed by the voters and were contemplating their enforced career change.
But the slaughter was not just on the opposition side. In the devastation, only two of the 42 constituencies returned the same TDs as last time.
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It was change all around with an avalanche of new faces and a host of strangers who will have to find their way around Leinster House when the 29th Dail meets for the first time on June 6.
Despite the steamroller-effect of the Fianna Fail surge, the party lost deputy leader Mary O’Rourke and several other leading figures were also cast into the wilderness, including Brendan Daly in Clare and Hugh Byrne in Wexford.
They were mainly victims of vote management strategies that went wrong under proportional representation. They had asked loyal supporters to give their votes to colleagues in an effort to maximize seats — only to be horrified to find the ploy had left them out in the cold.
The Labor Party saw the demise of its veteran former leader, Tanaiste and Foreign Minister Dick Spring.
Spring, who had survived many close shaves in the past in North Kerry, including a famous marathon count where the margin was just four votes, described politics as a “cruel business” after relinquishing his seat to Sinn Fein’s Martin Ferris.
As the papers tumbled out of the ballot boxes on Saturday, the terrible news began to emerge for Fine Gael that its vote was collapsing. Its phalanx of 54 outgoing TDs was facing decimation.
A string of high-profile figures were cast into the wilderness. Out went former leader Alan Dukes, current deputy leader Jim Mitchell, justice spokesman Alan Shatter and public enterprise spokesman Jim Higgins.
After a unique record in politics north and south of the border, Austin Currie bowed out of politics after losing his Dublin Fine Gael seat. Chief organizer of the first civil rights march in Coalisland in 1968, he was a founder of the Social Democratic and Labour Party in 1971. He was first elected to the old Stormont parliament as a 24-year-old in 1964 and was a minister in the short-lived power-sharing executive in 1974.
He switched to politics in the south in 1989 and became a junior minister and Fine Gael presidential candidate in 1990.