Saturday 20 December 2014

Weather hampers voter turnout in Meath by-election

Fionnan Sheahan and Lyndsey Telford

Published 27/03/2013 | 17:09

Presiding Officer, Joan O Sullivan and Darian Lynch, Polling Clerk wrapped up for the cold,at a polling station at Ashbourne Community Centre today.
Presiding Officer, Joan O Sullivan and Darian Lynch, Polling Clerk wrapped up for the cold,at a polling station at Ashbourne Community Centre today.
Voting in the bye-election,at a polling station at Ashbourne Community Centre today
Tommy Linnane with his son Thomas age 9, voting in the bye-election,at a polling station at Ashbourne Community Centre today
Tommy and Bernadette Linnane with their children,Niamh age 10 and Thomas age 9, voting in the bye-election,at a polling station at Ashbourne Community Centre today

Turnout is slow so far in the Meath East by-election.

The bad weather has added to the degree of apathy about the by-election.

Heading into the crucial teatime period, the turnout has been particularly low, although higher in the northern end of the county.

The highest turnout appears to be in Nobber, the home town of the late junior minister Shane McEntee.

The latest figures on turnout are Nobber 30pc; Drumconrath 20pc; Kilmainhamwood 20pc; Kells 23pc; Kilbeg 20pc; Stamullen 12pc; Bellewstown 20pc.

With just hours to go until the polls close at 9pm, some stations have reported a turnout as low as 3% with huge swathes of the constituency a commuter belt.

Eleven candidates are in the running to take the seat once held by late junior minister Shane McEntee, who died just before Christmas.

His daughter Helen is the Fine Gael party candidate to take up her father's mantle and she is one of the frontrunners tipped to win.

Fianna Fail candidate Thomas Byrne is believed to be her main competition, with pundits describing the race as too close to call.

Speculators have said Ms McEntee may have the backing of her late father's supporters and strong farming network, but Mr Byrne has previous experience serving as a TD.

A result is expected early tomorrow afternoon.

Polling stations across the constituency have reported an average turnout of just 5%, but a late surge is expected later in the evening as workers return home and rush to the ballot boxes.

The ongoing cold snap and snow flurries throughout the day may well have kept would-be voters away from the stations.

An overall low turnout may be attributed to the wintry weather, as well as a general lack of interest among voters during the election campaign.

Sinn Fein's Darren O'Rourke and Labour's Eoin Holmes are expected to battle for third position.

The prospect of losing out to Sinn Fein is likely to be a concerning one for Labour, which has seen its popularity gradually wane in political party opinion polls over recent months.

As junior coalition party, Labour will be hoping for greater support in Meath East, which boasts Labour TD Dominic Hannigan and Fine Gael's Regina Doherty.

Opposition parties have insisted they have witnessed anger and frustration among the constituents, and described the by-election as a chance for them to send a message to the Fine Gael-Labour coalition that they are sick of its "broken promises".

Polling stations will close at 9pm and the count will begin exactly 12 hours later.

Ballots will be tallied up in Ashbourne with Meath East returning officer Mary O'Malley presiding.

The remainder of the 11 names appearing on the ballot paper include the Green Party's Sean O'Buachalla, Direct Democracy Ireland's Ben Gilroy, Workers' Party candidate Seamus McDonagh, and independents Charlie Keddy, Mick Martin, Gerard O'Brien and Jim Tallon.

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