Tuesday 15 October 2019

Sinn Féin dramatically withdraws request for full recount in Ireland South

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

Ralph Riegel

SINN Féin dramatically withdrew its request for a full recount in the European Parliament election for Ireland South after initial counting indicated no major ballot anomalies.

The move came just one day into the full recount of the 755,9876 ballots after the week long count had outgoing Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada poised to lose her seat by a mere 326 votes to the Green Party's Sen Grace O'Sullivan.

Returning Officer Martin Harvey had granted the full recount last Thursday after a day long recheck of votes had seen Ms Ní Riada gain just a single vote, reducing her deficit to Sen O'Sullivan from 327 votes to 326 votes.

It was initially indicated that the full recount could take between three and four weeks to complete because of a reduced count staff - at an estimated cost of €1m.

However, extra staff were secured and Mr Harvey indicated today that he hoped to have the full recount completed within a week at the Nemo Rangers GAA complex in Cork.

A day long recounting of ballots had not revealed any major ballot anomalies - with Green Party and Sinn Féin officials scrutinising all votes.

Last weekend, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald TD had confirmed that the party would review the matter as the count numbers came 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.

This evening, the party formally withdrew its request for a full recount.

Now, Mr Harvey and his count staff will tomorrow begin the distribution of Ms Ní Riada's vote to determine the precise placings of the final three candidates - Independent Wexford TD Mick Wallace, Sen O'Sullivan and Fine Gael's outgoing MEP Deirdre Clune.

Sen O'Sullivan expressed mixed emotions last night about the roller-coaster count and recount.

"It has ended very well for me but I am quite sad for Liadh Ní Riada - I feel she served the country well as an MEP. I wished she would be going to Europe as an MEP alongside me," she said.

"We will see where we are going tomorrow with the vote distribution. It has been a tough day but it is certainly far tougher this evening for Liadh than for me."

Analysts said Sen O'Sullivan now has a very good chance of overtaking Ms Clune thanks to Sinn Féin transfers and clinching the fourth MEP berth.

Ms Clune is currently 2,306 votes ahead of her Green Party rival. Senator O'Sullivan snatched the European Parliament seat with a vote of 98,706 after a marathon four day count - a mere 327 (later 326) 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.

It was apparent from yesterday that Ms Ní Riada was almost certain to fail to overturn the now 326 vote deficit in the recount to prevent her elimination.

The distribution of her vote will today determine the order of the final three MEP berths - and who secures the fifth of 'Zombie' MEP seat to be filled only 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 (101,012) face being elected without reaching the 119,866 quota.

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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