Sunday 18 August 2019

Confirmed: Full recount in South Euro constituency to begin next Tuesday

Liadh Ni Riada (Niall Carson/PA)
Liadh Ni Riada (Niall Carson/PA)

Ralph Riegel

SINN Fein formally triggered a full recount in the European Parliament election in Ireland South with the destination of the five MEP seats now unlikely to be confirmed until June 21.

The recount, which will commence at 9am next Tuesday morning in Cork, could cost the State up to €1m and take between three and four weeks to complete.

The recount decision came after Sinn Fein 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.

Sinn Fein TD Jonathan O'Brien defended the recount decision and its likely cost by warning: "I don't put any price on democracy."

He acknowledged Sinn Fein had benefitted by just a single vote from the partial recheck.

"But there were a number of discrepancies found. For us to have full confidence in the outcome and the result, we felt a full recount of all the votes was the only option."

"I think voters deserve to have a very accurate result. The net result was one vote (extra for Sinn Fein)... but I estimated that only 2pc of the votes cast were rechecked."

"So there is still another 98pc there to be rechecked."

Returning Officer Martin Harvey had granted a Sinn Fein request for a recheck and recount.

However, the recount had to be formally triggered by Sinn Fein after a careful recheck of all vote bundles.

Mr Harvey confirmed the full recount after Ms Ni Riada formally requested one.

The 755,987 ballots will now remain at the Nemo Rangers GAA count centre 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 to 5pm Monday to Friday - a process which could take between three and four weeks to complete.

Mr Harvey confirmed that no counting will take place at weekends as he acknowledged that securing count staff numbers will be a challenge.

A recheck of vote bundles took place for over five hours from 9am at the Nemo Rangers GAA complex where the count has been held since Saturday.

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

None of the candidates attended the Nemo count centre for the recount announcement.

Sen O'Sullivan said she understood the Sinn Fein 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.

Sinn Fein 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."

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 mere 327 vote margin separated the two candidates out of more than 755,000 votes cast in the sprawling 12 county constituency.

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 Ni Riada after the seventeenth count.

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

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

The recount is expected to last from three days to potentially three weeks.

In a dramatic Wednesday night, Fine Gael saw Deirdre Clune deliver another miraculous performance on transfers - turning an 18,000 deficit to Senator O'Sullivan and Ms Ni 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.

The order of the final three seats in Ireland South was determined by the distribution of Mr Kelleher's 11,000 vote surplus.

He exceeded the quota of 119,866 by 11,786.

"I'm delighted to be elected and overall I think it has been a very strong European Parliament and Local Government election campaign for Fianna Fáil," Mr Kelleher said.

Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin said he was "very pleased" with the strong performance of both Mr Kelleher and Councillor Byrne.

However, it was Mick Wallace who proved the surprise package of the Ireland South campaign by coming third in first preferences - and then proving so transfer friendly he surged past Mr Kelleher before the seventeenth count.

He is poised to clinch the third seat in Ireland South with over 109,000 votes.

He is almost 12,000 votes ahead of Ms Clune in fourth place with 97,935.

Senator O'Sullivan is on 96,095 and Ms Ni Riada is on 95,573 - with Mr Kelleher's surplus now set to decide who takes the final two seats.

Mr Wallace attended the Nemo Rangers GAA count centre with Clare Daly TD who was elected an MEP in Dublin.

He said he was "thrilled" by his performance - and vowed to prove as much a thorn in the side of the Government and vested interests in Brussels as he had in the Dail.

However, while it was apparent at the outset that Mick Wallace and Billy Kelleher would join Sean Kelly in Brussels, the focus at the count centre over the past two days was on the tense battle between Fine Gael, Sinn Fein and the Green Party for the final two seats.

Ms Clune appeared to be out of the running until a remarkable 20,183 vote transfer from Labour's Sheila Nunan and Fine Gael's Minister Andrew Doyle put her neck-and-neck with Senator O'Sullivan and Ms Ni Riada.

Just 3,400 votes separated all three women at the sixteenth count - with only 1,300 votes between the Sinn Fein and Green Party candidates.

Ms Clune secured much stronger transfers from Councillor Byrne than anticipated.

Her strong performance was celebrated at the count centre by Tanaiste Simon Coveney who said it was "a very impressive performance in Ireland South for the party."

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