Friday 30 September 2016

Counts, counts and recounts - who'd miss it?

Published 01/03/2016 | 02:30

Counting of General Election votes in Castlebar Co. Mayo. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Counting of General Election votes in Castlebar Co. Mayo. Photo: Gerry Mooney

From his seat in the corner, former Dublin Lord Mayor Michael O'Halloran (80) sat quietly observing the nail-biting battle of Dublin Bay North, the scarf of his beloved Leicester City around his neck.

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He fell into supporting the club quite by accident as a young man, after their name emerged from a hat during a pools at work.

His passion for politics came long before. Brought to his first count in 1948 by his father, the Labour stalwart hasn't missed one since - including the four General Elections he contested himself - losing the last to a certain Ivor Callely.

"For some people it's a blood sport, but for me it's not - I have no pleasure in watching anyone do badly," he said of the count.

If the teleporting of horses to the finish line is ever seen as a credible alternative to the Grand National, e-voting might be seen as a viable option to what played out across the country over the weekend.

Until then, the humble pencil and paper make for a undeniably physical vote that can be held in the hand, uncontested. Unless you've gone and voted number one for Conor McGregor - as someone did in Dublin West.

The count is as intrinsically Irish a character as the MMA fighter himself.

And watching it play out can seem as ruthless, emotional and final as sitting at the foot of the guillotine.

But it's what makes our unique take on democracy tick.

By 9.30 am on Saturday, four children dressed in their party best were sitting on benches at the RDS, eating chocolate biscuits.

"They're being indoctrinated - these are the politicians of the future," quipped one observer.

But there might be something to it.

Only hardcore political families would bring children along to a count.

And only the children of those hardcore political families would behave as impeccably as they do. Even with chocolate biscuits for breakfast.

By the railings, the tallymen went tick, tick, tick with their pencil, deftly stroking off one 'bundle' of first preferences before proceeding seamlessly to the next.

It's a gripping process and expert tallymen are known the length and breathe of the country within these circles.

They are the ones who call it long before all others.

And they usually get it right.

But this election even rattled Michael O'Halloran - an expert tallyman himself in his day.

"You must listen to the people to understand what they are telling you," he said, adding that some parties tell the people to listen to understand what they are telling them.

And what were the Irish people saying in this election?

"I think they were telling them that they're browned off," he said bluntly,

Dublin, in particular, had been "totally unforgiving".

But mistakes had been made, particularly with Irish Water and the property tax.

There should have been waivers for disadvantaged people, said Mr O'Halloran.

"It's a very cruel business, politics," he mused.

"It's a very hard thing to put your head on the block because sometimes they will chop your head off."

As the battle of Dublin Bay North raged on in the corner, over at the far end of the room, the battle at Dublin South Central saw the lawyers step in between Bríd Smith of the Anti Austerity Alliance and Catherine Ardagh of Fianna Fáil.

Tension held every last hopeful candidate in a vice grip.

Tommy Broughan looked shattered on the benches.

Averil Power was still hopeful on the transfer front.

Cardboard cups, sweet wrappers and empty crisp packets littered the tables.

While the numbers are being crunched, junk food proves to be the cheery cornerstone of our democracy.

And yet, nobody could tear themselves away.

Irish Independent

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