Monday 19 August 2019

€1m Ireland South recount begins - but may now be completed in one third of time

Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Ralph Riegel

THE full recount in the European Parliament election in Ireland South has commenced this morning in Cork but could now be finished in one third the originally estimated time.

Count officials revealed today that extra staff has meant the count could be resolved, all going well, by next Sunday - two weeks earlier than thought.

However, speculation has mounted that Sinn Féin - who called the recount after outgoing MEP Liadh Ní Riada was poised to lose her seat by just 327 votes - may review their position at a later stage if the initial counts don't significantly vary from the results delivered in the marathon ballot sorting process between May 26-30.

A full recount had been estimated to take between three and four weeks to complete.

Returning Officer Martin Harvey has now confirmed that experienced count staff are again available.

That was possible because of the co-operation if the Court Service and Cork local authorities.

That will dramatically shorten the recount time.

Without delays or problems, the recount could now be finalised by Sunday.

The 755,987 ballots have remained at the Nemo GAA complex in Cork under Garda supervision.

"It is difficult. But that is democracy. We will do everything we can now," Mr Harvey said.

Counting will run from 9am Monday to Friday - a process which initially was thought it could take between three and four weeks to complete.

Sinn Féin formally triggered a full recount last Thursday. It had been feared the destination of the five MEP seats was unlikely to be confirmed until after June 21.

The recount decision came after Sinn Féin and count staff examined vote bundles from Senator Grace O'Sullivan of the Green Party and

outgoing Sinn Fein MEP Liadh Ni Riada with the two candidates separated by a mere 327 ballots after the eighteenth count on Wednesday night.

Ms Ní Riada gained just a single vote on a subsequent recheck on Thursday.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the party will review the recount as the numbers come in.

"If it becomes apparent that the result is not going to change then of course at that stage then the counting will end," she said.

Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O'Brien defended the potential cost of the recount.

"I don't put any price on democracy," he warned.

Sinn Féin official and former Lord Mayor of Cork, Chris O'Leary, said a recount was fully warranted given the tiny margin involved between the two candidates.

"We are talking about just over 0.04pc of the total vote cast," he said.

"That is equivalent to five votes in a Local Government election and 25 votes in a Dail election."

A recheck of vote bundles took place for over five hours from 9am last Thursday.

The recheck uncovered just five ballot anomalies - to the net benefit of a single vote for Ms Ni Riada.

Sen O'Sullivan said she understood the Sinn Féin position.

"You can understand when there are 755,000 votes cast and it comes down to a few hundred votes," she said.

However, Sen O'Sullivan also expressed confidence that she will hold the MEP berth she won in such dramatic fashion for the Green Party.

Senator O'Sullivan snatched the fifth and final European Parliament seat with a vote of 98,706 after a marathon four day count - a mere 327 votes ahead of her rival, Ms Ni Riada, who garnered 98,379.

The small margin separated the two candidates out of more than 755,000 votes cast in the sprawling 12 county constituency.

If Ms Ní Riada does not overturn the now 326 vote deficit in the recount, she will be eliminated and the distribution of her vote will then

determine the order of the final three MEP berths - and who secures the fifth of 'Zombie' seat to be filled after Brexit.

Fine Gael MEP and former GAA President Sean Kelly topped the poll and was elected on the ninth count.

Former Fianna Fáil Minister Billy Kelleher was elected on the seventeenth count after exceeding the quota while Wexford Independent

TD Mick Wallace (112,441) and outgoing Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune (111,012) face being elected without reaching the 119,866 quota.

However, after the eighteenth count, which was the distribution of Mr Kelleher's 11,786 vote surplus, just 327 votes separated Senator O'Sullivan and Ms Ni Riada, in fifth and six places respectively.

Senator O'Sullivan had been 522 votes ahead of Ms Ní Riada after the seventeenth count.

The recheck involved an examination of all vote bundles to determine if there were any anomalies.

A full recount will involve a recounting of all ballots, a major process given reduced count staff numbers.

Fine Gael's Deirdre Clune delivered another miraculous performance on transfers - turning an 18,000 deficit to Senator O'Sullivan and Ms Ní

Riada around in the space of just two counts.

By the seventeenth count, Ms Clune had a lead of just under 1,900 votes over her nearest rival.

By the eighteenth count she had stretched her lead to 2,300 votes.

That earlier count, which was the distribution of Fianna Fáil Councillor Malcolm Byrne's 80,000 votes, saw Mr Kelleher elected with a massive transfer of 38,767.

Ms Clune critically outperformed her two rivals, having trailed both by almost 18,000 votes before the sixteenth count.

In 2014, she delivered another transfer miracle by overtaking her running mate, Health Minister Simon Harris, on the tenth count to be elected an MEP.

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