Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane has been returned to the Dáil on the first count with a whopping 20,569 first preference votes, illustrating the surge in support his party has enjoyed both locally and nationally.
“I don’t think anybody would have seen this vote coming,” he told the Waterford News & Star, moments before he was hoisted shoulder high by his supporters. “Certainly we didn’t; if we did we would have stood a second candidate. We knew before the campaign got underway that we were going to do well and we had a figure of 14,000 to 15,000 first preferences being very likely for us. But to get over 20,000 is obviously exceptional and is something that we didn’t foresee.”
Deputy Cullinane continued: “I think it was the perfect storm of my own brand – I was quite strong in the city and county – the Sinn Féin brand was quite strong and when you have both of those things it’s a quite potent mix in any election. I also had the luxury of having some very high-profile TDs and other candidates who weren’t standing and that played its part as well. If you’re an incumbent and you’re in a strong position that helps so we had all of those things going in our favour and I would say the hard work I’ve put in over the past four years also played it part. So when you look at all those factors, it has led to what has been a phenomenal vote for us here.”
Referring to his first general election in 2002, Deputy Cullinane recalled that he won 2,977 first preferences. “I remember it to a vote and we were very pleased with that vote obviously at the time because it was from a standing start. In 2007, that wasn’t a great election, we only marginally increased the vote to over 3,000; in 2011 I lost out – just about – to John Halligan and it takes patience, tenacity and hard work to keep going, which I did over a long number of years. I said this a number of times during the campaign: some very prominent people in Waterford told me when I first got involved in politics that I’d never be elected as a councillor with Sinn Féin – and I did. They then told me that I’d never be a TD with Sinn Féin – and I was. They also told me I’d never be a minister with Sinn Féin, so we’ll how the history books will mark that one. But that’s something now, obviously that we have to be focused on in the time ahead.”
Deputy Cullinane added: “We have to fight for our position in government the same way as everybody else does. They will try and exclude us but we have to be there fighting to get into government, not for the sake of it, not with any one particular party, not to prop them up but to be there, at the very minimum, equal partners in a government. And that might be with smaller parties on the left with a bigger party, it might be with smaller parties than Sinn Féin, we’ll have to wait and see the way the seats are filled – or it could be with one of the two bigger parties, who knows?”
Regarding the composition of the next government, David Cullinane said: “The amount of journalists – I’m not talking about local journalists – but national journalists and opinion makers who said we’ll back to the polls in six weeks or two months’ time, I think that’s a slap to the face to the electorate. And yes, that was said four years ago as well but that won’t wash with the electorate, they decide these matters, they’ve elected 160 TDs so when they say the numbers are not there to form a government, of course the numbers are there. It’s up to all of the parties and independents to sit around and see who can form a government – and it would be a very brave party to sit on the sidelines, to not talk to anybody and then go back to the electorate and say we couldn’t form a government. I don’t think that would wash…all options have to be explored but not exploring them and having this notion that we’re just going to go back to the people because we didn’t like the vote, I can’t see that washing, not with this electorate.”