Friday 23 August 2019

John Downing: 'Technical tussle to decide last spot makes case for an Electoral Commission'


Counting on it: (From left) Frances Fitzgerald, John Paul Phelan, Regina Doherty
Counting on it: (From left) Frances Fitzgerald, John Paul Phelan, Regina Doherty
John Downing

John Downing

Normally the election count stops once all the seats are filled.

This time the order of seats three and four really mattered because number four is not going to the European Parliament until Brexit finally happens - whenever that is.

So, the real drama began after Ciarán Cuffe, of the Green Party, headed the poll and was followed by Fine Gael's Frances Fitzgerald. At that stage, Fianna Fáil's Barry Andrews was third and Independents4Change TD Clare Daly was fourth.

The disputed issue was: should they re-distribute the votes of number five, Sinn Féin's Lynn Boylan? There was every chance her votes would transfer heavily to Ms Daly, making her number three and off to Brussels.

The election lawyers landed at the RDS and each made their case. Mr Andrews's representatives insisted things should stop where they were. Ms Daly's representatives said the exact opposite.

The embattled returning officer held his counsel over night. But the junior minister responsible for election organisation, John Paul Phelan, made a foray onto early morning radio to say he believed the count should stop where it was.

Two hours later Mr Phelan was back on radio to say the polar opposite. That was how the returning officer saw things too and Ms Boylan's transfers reversed the order: Clare Daly is off to Brussels and Barry Andrews must wait. Yes, this was complex and unprecedented and difficult due to Brexit. But it could easily have ended up in the High Court given the high stakes.

The plain fact is we need an Electoral Commission to take charge of all democratic votes on a permanent basis. It has been talked of long enough - it's time to act.

The officials in what is now called the Housing and Planning and Local Government Department have served us well in managing free and fair elections. But yesterday's confusion should have been avoided because problems around the "Brexit seats" were well-flagged.

Irish Independent

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