Denis Naughten described last Saturday as the proudest day of his life after dominating the Roscommon-Galway constituency in the General Election.
The outgoing Independent TD secured 13,936 first-preference votes, amounting to 30.3 per cent of the 45,680 valid votes that were cast. He easily surpassed the quota – 11,421 – on the first count and was deemed elected.
Deputy Naughten has held a seat in the Dáil since he was first elected as a 24-year-old in 1997, but this represented by far his best performance.
Standing as an Independent for the first time, he increased his share of the vote by over ten percentage points, having received 19.6 per cent under the Fine Gael banner in 2011. He also topped the poll on this occasion.
“This is by far the proudest day of my life,” said a euphoric Deputy Naughten.
“The vote that I received from the people of Roscommon and Galway, right from Cloontuskert in the south of this constituency to Ballyfarnon in the north of this constituency, is extremely humbling.”
The result represented an endorsement of the stance Deputy Naughten took in 2011, when he left Fine Gael over the closure of the Accident and Emergency Unit at Roscommon Hospital.
He revealed last weekend that he almost quit politics at that time, only for a constituent to convince him to change his mind.
“I remember four and a half years ago, after a particular vote in Leinster House, I genuinely believed I was going to pack in politics,” he said.
“I remember getting a phone call from a very elderly woman at The Square in Ballaghaderreen – the late Peggy Mannion – and she convinced me there was a career in politics for me, and thanks to her encouragement, I stuck with it.
“It has been proven right today by the near 14,000 people who came out and cast their No. 1 vote for me.”
Deputy Naughten said that although he was confident that he would top the poll, he did not expect such a resounding vote.
“We felt that it would be hard for any other candidate to come close to us, but I never thought I would get the vote I got. I never thought I would have a surplus, never mind a surplus of 2,500,” he said.
“It is a phenomenal result.” Deputy Naughten ran a very intense election campaign, led by his Director of Elections, Cllr. Laurence Fallon. His team canvassed 85 per cent of the houses in the constituency in 23 days, he said.
He said that his stance over Roscommon Hospital certainly bolstered his vote, but that it was not the sole factor.
“There are a number of things in relation to that vote. One of them is that I think there is a lot of anger out there in relation to the promises that were made at the last election, and were gone back on,” he said.
“I think, secondly, people are very sore in relation to our health services.
“I think, as well as that, people were angry in relation to the slogan ‘Keep the Recovery Going’, when we haven’t seen it in Roscommon or Galway.”
In seeking a return to office, Fine Gael and Labour based their campaign on that message. They argued that they had brought the country from economic turmoil in 2011 to a far more stable position.
However, the electorate firmly rejected a return of the Coalition.
Given that, Deputy Naughten said that there was a distinct possibility that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would break with transition to form the next government, but added: “I personally wouldn’t like to see it.”
In the event that such a coalition does not materialise, Independents such as Deputy Naughten could be called upon to support a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael-led government. He said that he was open to doing so.
“I am quite prepared to go down and do a deal with whoever, whether it is Micheál Martin or Enda Kenny after the election, if it is in the interests of this constituency and of the issues that I have been raising nationally,” he said.
Deputy Naughten said that he would not be setting any preconditions in such negotiations, but that there were many issues that needed to be addressed.
“I want to see investment in our emergency services in Roscommon, in our ambulance services and in Portiuncula (Hospital, Ballinasloe),” he said.
He said that he also wanted to see investment in job creation and for essential infrastructure, such as broadband and roads, to be improved.