Saturday 18 November 2017

Fine Gael activist says John Perry voting pact worked on the night

John Perry. Photo: Courtpix
John Perry. Photo: Courtpix

Tim Healy

A FINE Gael activist told the High Court action a voting pact which ensured the Deputy John Perry would get a colleague's second preferences at a selection convention had worked on the night.

Councillor Hubert Keaney also said people registering some 686 voters on October 16 in a Drumshambo ballroom venue were not given the proper environment to do the job.

On top of that 686, there were another 200 people in the ballroom venue in Drumshambo, Co Leitrim, he said.

It was not an orderly environment because there were too many people approaching three registration desks, he said.  The people doing the registration were doing their best but could not conduct their jobs in an effective manner, Mr Keaney said.

He was giving evidence on the third day of an action against the trustees of FG in which Mr Perry, TD for Sligo-Leitrim, he seeks to set aside the result of the convention which he lost.  He claims there were serious irregularities in the conduct of the convention which was to select two candidates for the general election.

Mr Keany was the agent for Senator Michael Comiskey, one of the four candidates on the night, who came second in the first count.

The court heard there was FG strategy directive requiring there must be one candidate from Sligo and one from Leitrim.  Mr Perry says even though he received the lowest first preference vote, he would still have been elected were it not for the irregularities.

Leitrim candidate Gerry Reynolds topped the poll but was one short of the quota which meant the lowest candidate, Mr Perry, was eliminated.

If it was not for the irregular voting, Mr Reynolds would have been elected on the first count.

Mr Perry says because of the directive, it should have been Sen Comiskey, as a Leitrim-based candidate, who was eliminated.   He had a pact with Comiskey to get his second preferences most of which would have went to him, he claims.

Cllr Keaney told the court he turned to Mr Perry's agent as both watched the ballot papers coming out of the box that night and saying the pact was working.

Cllr Keaney also said he believed the Taoiseach had given a public commitment that all sitting TDs would be allowed stand in the election and a lot of people at the convention were aware of this.

FG, which is opposing Mr Perry's case, says what the Taoiseach actually said was sitting TDs would be allowed run at convention.

Asked by Mr Justice Paul Gilligan did it not cross his mind to complain about the running of the convention, Cllr Keaney said it was not in his nature to complain and anyway his duty on the night was to ensure people he was expecting had come to the convention.

He did however raise other aspects of disorganisation with the returning officer Darragh Kelly in relation to a number of people who had not been allowed vote on the night.

He had also sought the register of voters who had been marked off on the night from Mr Kelly and party general secretary Tom Curran but was told by Mr Curran he was not entitled to it.   He was later told he would get it in a few days but it was two weeks later before he got it.

Cllr Keaney also said he heard Mr Curran say on the night the ballot papers would have to be kept safe in case there was a challenge.

He also said on two occasions he saw a ballot box left unattended in a room.

Under cross examination he agreed voting pacts don't always deliver but said he believed it worked on this occasion.

Thomas Walsh, Mr Perry's parliamentary secretary and agent on the night of the convention, said he felt there were better venues available than the Drumshambo ballroom.   It was not suitable and believed, as someone with a background in public health, that a health and safety officer would have closed it down had one been there that night.

Earlier, Michael Marsh, retired professor of political science in Trinity College, said if Mr Reynolds had been elected on the first count there was a significant probability Mr Perry would have been elected on the second on the basis of the other Leitrim candidate being eliminated.  One would have expected Mr Perry to get more than 50 per cent of Comiskey's second preferences, he said.

The case continues.

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