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Amid the success of Fianna Fáil’s Billy Barrys, Micheál Martin is in the grip of post-victory delirium

Looming byelections? Bring ‘em on, boy. The Tánaiste is happy with everything, while count staff, political staff and observers try to preserve sanity

Micheál Martin was happy out.

Happy with everything.

Loved the election, but not enough to go straight into another one.

Adored the warm weather.

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May and June are his favourite months.

Thrilled with the Billy Barrys (Messrs Billy Kelleher, Barry Andrews and Barry Cowen all winning seats in Europe).

Cherished the long hours on the canvass.

Treasured his time bonding with Billy at GAA matches in Munster.

Glad to remain in Government until early next year.

Delighted with Fianna Fáil’s performance.

Looming byelections? Bring ‘em on, boy.

The Tánaiste was in great form when he visited the count centre in the RDS on Monday morning. He ran around the tables shaking hands with count staff, just like Taoiseach Simon Harris did the day before. Micheál may not be able market himself as a new energy, but the old energy isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

Another happy bunny.

“It was a wonderfully pleasant campaign,” he burbled from his cushy perch above the dogfight for the remaining two Dublin seats. Barry Andrews topped the poll with Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty a close second.

Cocooned in the luxury of certain victory, he thought of all the nice things about fighting elections, like the double delight of being able to attend some “great hurling and football matches” which also present “tremendous opportunities for canvassing”.

Ah yes.

Billy Kelleher and I had many a good afternoon at various stadia.”

Success for the Billy Barrys and many more Fianna Fáil candidates around the country also meant success for Micheál.

As the late PJ Mara famously told political correspondents when boss Charlie Haughey’s leadership was under question: “There’ll be no more nibbling at my leader’s bum.”

After dire predictions of major losses for the two main Government parties, they spent the Monday locked in an agreeable duel to find out which of them would emerge with the country’s biggest haul of seats and associated bragging rights.

But it was a case of what might have been for Sinn Féin after an unexpected walloping, recent opinion polls notwithstanding. The party got its candidate strategy badly wrong and support ebbed from erstwhile heartlands to independents and fringe parties.

Party figures looked glum on Monday as the full extent of the calamity dawned. “Meltdown huddles” was how one Government supporter described Shinners surveying the scene. Louise O’Reilly and Eoin Ó Broin, seen deep in discussion at the RDS, won’t have found that very funny. Unlike the sunny Micheál Martin, it was a safe bet that they weren’t discussing the weather.

It was hard going as the count very slowly inched its way through the first round. By the afternoon, as the minor placings were whittled away, the political anoraks were predicting Lynn Boylan would bring some solace to the downcast Shinners by taking a seat when running mate Daithí Doolan was eliminated, but nobody was willing to call the destination of the final one, apart from saying it would be a candidate from the left.

Might the quiet success of the Social Democrats during these elections have a bearing on the outcome? Would Sinéad Gibney’s surplus be enough to help Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin across the line?

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns will have been pleased to see the party double its representation at local level to a creditable if unspectacular 35 seats, while Ivana Bacik was similarly pleased to see Labour dodge a drubbing and halt the slide in its fortunes with a decent 55.

If the success of the Government parties saw the focus shift to speculation about the date of the next general election, the local election figures revived talk of a merger between Labour and the Soc Dems.

But what would they be called?

The Social and Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) moniker is already taken. But the Labour and Social Democratic Party might be a nice title, suggested one wit.

LSD party, anyone?

Not that Micheál Martin needs artificial stimulants. On Tuesday morning he was high on election results and porridge.

The only senior politician possibly happier was the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe. At the weekend, he was overjoyed by the local election performance of party colleagues in his Dublin central bailiwick. On Monday, he was named European of the Year at a ceremony in Dublin and awarded a special gong in recognition of his work as President of the Eurogroup of EU finance ministers.

This is an annual event organised by the NGO European Movement Ireland and past recipients include Michel Barnier, Enda Kenny and Brian Friel.

In his acceptance speech, Paschal declared himself “beyond honoured and so humbled” to receive the accolade.

“I was moved beyond words when I received the news of this recognition, I am even more so this evening because Ray McAdam topped the poll in the north inner city and we snaffled two seats in Cabra and I haven’t stopped crying since Sunday night.”

Although he didn’t say the last bit about Cllr Ray McAdam out loud.

Taoiseach Simon Harris turned up to present him with the award, which was nice as he rarely gets out of the house.

But back to Micheál, who had some very important information to impart about the date of the next general election.

“I think May/June is an optimal time in Ireland. It’s a beautiful, eh, for me they are the best months of the year. You’ve long nights. You can stay out canvassing longer,” he said.

Which is true.

But the Tánaiste was merely building up to a bombshell revelation.

“But I’m afraid May/June, effectively, has passed so the possibility of holding an election in May/June is not on.”

It’s not on in May/June next year either.

Insights such as this are why Micheál had been at the top of national politics for so long.

So he thinks now that the Government will soldier on gallantly until February or March 2025, by which time all his prospective candidates will have died from nervous exhaustion and the political correspondents will be in a home for the bewildered.

But he is sticking doggedly to this most improbable timeline until the time comes to ditch it later this year. And his Coalition colleagues are also pretending to go along with it.

Further proof that the Tánaiste was in the grip of post-victory delirium came when it was suggested to him that it would be unwise to hold byelections arising from TDs taking seats in Europe immediately before a general election.

“Actually, I like byelections,” remarked Micheál, clearly not himself. Everyone laughed.

The RDS shut up shop at a respectable hour to preserve the sanity of count staff, political staff and observers.

And they’ll all go again on Tuesday.

Will Simon Harris call an early election after a good weekend for the Government?

Listen | 24:43

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