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How the Leader brought General Election news – 50 years ago.

 Leinster Leader 8 March 2007


How the Leader brought General Election news – 50 years ago.






Has it been five years since the last General Election? The half-decade since 2002 has flown with many crises and controversies serving to accelerate the passage of the tenure of the 29th Dail Eireann.  Now as the statutory five-year deadline approaches the voters of Kildare will be treated to a torrent of canvassing and campaigning. For some it’s a necessary evil, for others it’s all part and parcel of our hard-won democracy.

Exactly fifty years ago the Kildare electors were faced with similar choices with the country in election mode. But there was a big difference in how the election results were conveyed nationally and locally: this was before the era of the rolling RTE Election night coverage pioneered later in the 1960s by the likes of presenter Brian Farrell and analyst Basil Chubb. Instead it was the printed medium which conveyed the breaking news of the election results. And the Leinster Leader was not found wanting – in its front page dated 9 March 1957 it gave the latest intelligence on the nationwide counts before the paper went to press on the Thursday evening (a contrast with today’s pattern where Tuesday evening is the deadline).

Although 17 seats had yet to be filled at that point it was clear that Fianna Fail was heading for a spectacular majority in the 147 seat Dail with seats returned as follows:  Fianna Fail 70 seats; Fine Gael 34; Labour 11; Clann na Talmhan 3; Clann na Poblachta 1: Sinn Fein 4 and Independents 7.  The inclusion of Sinn Fein in the listing may come as a surprise to those who assume the party’s electoral involvement is of recent vintage while the 1957 election marked the last prominence for Clann na Talmhan and Clann na Poblachta, two small but vigorous parties which had captured national attention in the lean 1940s.

For Leinster Leader readers the big news was how close Fianna Fail came to snatching a second seat in the three-seat Kildare constituency. The formula of one FF TD, one FG and one Labour had been a constant in the constituency since the 1920s and, as any student of electoral arithmetic will verify, a change in a three seat constituency requires a seismic upheaval in voter preferences. While the party outcome stayed the same in Kildare (by the narrowest of margins) there was a significant change in personnel on the Fianna Fail side.

There were four candidates going into the election: the three outgoing TDs – Tom Harris (Caragh) of Fianna Fail, Ger Sweetman (Kill) of Fine Gael, Labour’s Billy Norton (Naas), and a second FF candidate in the person of national teacher Patrick Dooley (Athy). Not quite a dark horse the latter had contested the General Election of three years previously but had polled well behind his party colleague – War of Independence veteran Tom Harris.

The highest ranking of the sitting TDs was Bill Norton who was Tanaiste and Minister for Industry and Commerce in the outgoing Government. Indeed, County Kildare was impressively well represented at the Cabinet table as Ger Sweetman was Minister for Finance. This was one of the rare occasions in Irish political history where the holders of the second and third most influential Government positions hailed from the same constituency.

With such a highly-geared Cabinet representation it was a reasonable bet that Fine Gael and Labour in Kildare would hold their positions against any national swing towards Fianna Fail. But quite how close the county’s voters came to triggering an election upset is a story that we will return to in a later column as we reflect on the coincidence of General Elections fifty years apart – 1957 and 2007.





Compiled by Liam Kenny from the rich resources of the Leinster Leader files,Local History Department, Kildare County Library. Series No.6.

The second instalment for March from Liam Kenny's regular column 'Nothing New Under the Sun.' Our thanks to Liam.

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