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In years to come the date printed at the dateline of this paper, 24 May 2007, may come to be regarded as one of the most historic in the first decade of 21st century Ireland.  On this date upwards of one million Irish people will have had an opportunity to go the polls to elect a new Dail which, in turn, will elect a Government to bring the country forward for another number of years. Kildare voters have a say in that process today, electing four TDs from the North Kildare constituency and three from the South Kildare constituency.

Fifty years ago an identical democratic exercise was underway in the 1957 General Election.  Four candidates stood in the election in what was the County Kildare three-seater constituency.  Their candidacy was officially notified to the electorate in March 1957 when the County Returning Officer Mr. P J O’Neill published a notice in the Leinster Leader identifying the candidates and their nominees.  They were: Patrick Dooley, 4 St Michael’s Terrace, Athy who was nominated by Michael G. Nolan and Edward Purcell; Thomas Harris, Caragh, Naas, nominated by William Miley and Thomas Dunne; Gerard Sweetman, Kill, nominated by Patrick Frayne and Patrick Fitzsimons; and William Norton, 6 Marlyn Park, Dublin, nominated by Michael Smyth and Peter Paul Wilkinson. All but Dooley had been TD’s in the previous Dail.

Patrick Dooley’s occupation was given as National Teacher and Tom Harris was a farmer although better known as a 1916 veteran.  The most notable occupations in the official notice were those of Norton who contested the election as Tainaiste and Minister for Industry and Commerce in the outgoing Interparty Government (1954-57) and Ger Sweetman, who was Minister for Finance in the same Government. It is often forgotten that at that time, through Norton and Sweetman, Kildare had the second and third most powerful portfolios at the Cabinet table – a level of combined ministerial clout not since matched in the county.

However despite the ministerial profiles of Norton and Sweetman (Labour and Fine Gael respectively)  it was the two Fianna  Fail candidates, Dooley and Harris, who almost triggered the shock of the election in the three-seater Kildare constituency which had gone into the election with one each of Labour, FF and FG.

There was a national swing towards Fianna Fail and that was reflected in the polling in County Kildare. It was clear that a cliff hanger was ahead when the ballot boxes from around the county were opened at the count centre in Naas Town Hall.
In the tightest of polls the four candidates polled within 700 votes of one another from a poll of 26,769 valid votes.  The first count result was: Labour’s Bill Norton topping with 7,038 votes; Patrick Dooley of FF second with 6,860 votes; Sweetman of FG on third position with 6,339 and Harris of FF just marginally behind with 6,311.  The quota – the magic figure needed to guarantee election – was 6,638 votes.  Norton and Dooley were above the quota and deemed elected but all eyes centred on Sweetman and Norton’s respective bundles of votes. 

Fianna Fail had pulled off a major achievement by winning almost two quotas. The decision on the third seat was now down to the transfer of Bill Norton’s surplus which, in an arithmetic coincidence, was exactly 400 votes above quota.  After further drama, including a Fianna Fail demand for a recheck of the votes (which did not alter the position), Mr. O’Neill, the returning officer, proceeded to distribute Norton’s 400 surplus.  Some 300 of Norton’s surplus transferred to Sweetman, indicating an effective coalition transfer strategy. This was enough to drag him over the quota and ensure election but the memory of that razor thin 29 vote margin between the outgoing Minister for Finance from Fine Gael and Fianna Fail’s Tom Harris became part of Kildare political folklore.  The next few days will tell if there will be similar drama in the count centres of the Irish General Election of fifty years later.

Compiled by Liam Kenny from the rich resource of the Leinster Leader files, Local Studies Dept., Kildare Co. Library. Series No. 17.


Liam Kenny's article for 24 May 2007 (the day of the 2007 General Election) which explores the 1957 General election within the Couny of Kildare. Our thanks to Liam.

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