“IT’S not too often a St Vincent’s man comes out to Nemo and comes away with a victory. It’s not just a victory for me or Sinn Féin; I hope it’s going to be a victory for the whole northside.”
After a whirlwind election for Sinn Féin, Thomas Gould reflects on the journey that will see him take a seat in Dáil Éireann with a third of a quota to spare.
'Up The northside!' Thomas Gould's father Tony's celebrates his son's success
One month ago, he was tipped to replace Jonathan O’Brien, who announced he was standing down, but the election was called before the party could even hold a selection convention.
“My convention was the 18th of January. People were putting up posters and I hadn’t even been selected yet,” he said.
That’s why the party doesn’t feel too many regrets about not running a second candidate in a constituency where it now looks like there was a chance of winning two.
Mr Gould said that time was an issue in selecting a second candidate, but, when it comes down to it, no one saw this result coming.
“Really, if there had been a longer run in, we probably would have run another candidate. We were expecting the election to be April or May.
“We’d have to hold a convention, we’d have to throw it open to the members, so we would have been down to two-and-a-half weeks then. Then there’s getting literature and posters for that person,” he said.
But at the start of the campaign there was no urgency to add a second candidate as Sinn Féin was more concerned about holding what it had after a few bad elections in-a-row.
“If you had asked me three-and-a-half weeks out, this swell wasn’t there. A few weeks ago, we were expecting to retain the seat.
Cork North Central has always had a strong Sinn Féin tradition. But nobody could have expected this.
“It was like a tsunami of support,” he said.
The swell only started to appear about halfway through the campaign, he said, and the party was even uncertain about it then too.
“We felt it about two, two-and-a-half weeks out. Every door we were knocking on, we were getting support.
“We started going into areas that wouldn’t be core Sinn Féin areas — middle-class areas and private estates and rural areas — and we weren’t actually sure because the response was actually too good.
“Whichever door we knocked on, we had a proposal that was resonating.
“The over-65 retirement age was an issue. Gardaí on the street was an issue. Then housing, and homelessness, and the health service are a constant issue.
“I think people felt Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were offering solutions for the future where they want change now,” he said.
Mr Gould credited party leader Mary Lou McDonald for the sudden rise in support after she ran a stunning national campaign that saw her go from being excluded from a party leader debate to dominating the narrative of the election.
“I think a few things played in our favour. One, the exclusion of Mary Lou. Two, the performance of Mary Lou.
“People seem to really trust her. They really believe what she’s saying. She’s fantastic,” he said.
But with an increased vote comes increased pressure to perform and to enter government and deliver change.
With the way the numbers stack up, Sinn Féin won’t be able to lead a government on its own, despite winning more first preference votes than any other party. So is it ready to go into a coalition?
“We have to be,” said Mr Gould.
“People want change now. We told the people we wanted to deliver change now. Talking about delivering stuff in five or 10 years’ time, people are sick of that.
“So the question is for all the other parties. People voted for Sinn Féin. Other politicians must respect the people’s choice.”
A coalition with Fianna Fáil might be the only realistic option for Sinn Féin — an option that could alienate many voters.
For Mr Gould, his support for an arrangement like that would be contingent on delivery for the northside.
That means a commitment to the northern ring road, progress on a new Cork hospital, and big investments in housing and healthcare.
“What we’re saying is we want to deliver, and God help the party that doesn’t want to deliver for the people. They want change and they want it now. They don’t want people posturing and drawing red lines,” he said.
He said the real block to Sinn Féin entering government will be other parties unwilling to listen to them.
“Our policies make sense. Pearse Doherty is a brilliant spokesperson on finance, Eoin Ó Broin on housing, Louise O’Reilly on health.
“The biggest pill here will be the pride of the other parties. Is their pride going to be too big that they won’t listen to our solutions?”
On what his own role in Leinster House might be, Mr Gould is open to anything but wants to keep his eye on Cork.
“I haven’t even thought about that. I’ll do what I can do, wherever I’m needed.
“If I’m asked to do a job in Dublin I’ll do a job in Dublin, but I’ll be working for my area because we’re a forgotten area of Ireland.
“We’ve been neglected and I want to make sure that stops. “I want to be back delivering on the ground because the people of Cork North-Central voted for me.
“They don’t want an absent TD. They want to see me on the ground, working on local issues as well as national issues.
“We’re going to try get the combination right.
“The people of Cork North-Central will be quick enough to let me know if I’m not delivering on the ground.”
And he’ll be quick to let anyone else who is not delivering know too.
Monday nights in City Hall will be a lot more subdued with his absence, as he takes his famous booming diatribes against government failures from Cork to Dublin.
“I’d hope to go up there and work with people. But if people aren’t willing to work with us, they better be ready that I’m going to stand up and fight for the people who voted for me and all the people who voted for Sinn Féin.” he said.
But whatever is in store, he saw Sunday’s result as a victory not just for himself, but for the family and community that drove him into politics in the first place.
“It’s brilliant. In particular, for my wife Michelle and our daughters, Aoife and Orla, but also for my dad and my sisters.
“My mother was sick all my life. She died when she was only 50. It was one of the reasons I got into politics, when I saw the health service and the way people were treated. I’m very proud that my dad was a great father. I’m the first TD elected from Knocknaheeny, and I’m very proud of that.”