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Explainer: Why was the election postponed in Tipperary and what happens now?

An independent candidate died yesterday – and now it looks like Tipperary won’t get to vote until the end of the month.

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

VOTERS IN TIPPERARY won’t be heading to the polls this Saturday following the death of independent candidate Marese Skehan yesterday. 

With several candidates now seeking legal advice to see if it’s really necessary to postpone the poll, Tipperary returning officer James Seymour last night proceeded according to the 1992 Electoral Act, which sets out steps to be taken in the event of a candidate’s death. 

Speaking this morning, Seymour said he’d “countermanded” or cancelled Saturday’s ballot in Tipperary and informed the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, who is due to announce a date for a fresh election today.

The new ballot is likely to be on Saturday 29 February. 

It’s an unprecedented event in modern Irish politics. The last time such a situation occurred was in 1948 when the Carlow-Kilkenny vote was postponed after Fine Gael TD Eamon Coogan – father of Tim Pat – died on the campaign trail. 

So, what exactly does the legislation say and why does the election in Tipperary have to be postponed? 

Electoral Act

Legislation states that if a candidate in any constituency dies after the final day for nominations, “the returning officer shall forthwith notify the Minister and the Clerk of the Dáil of the death of the candidate and at the same time, if notice of the poll has been given, he shall countermand the poll”.

In this scenario, a new election must be held in the constituency where the candidate has died.

Under The Electoral Act 1992, “all the proceedings for the election shall be commenced afresh, but a fresh nomination or consent shall not be necessary in respect of any candidate who stood nominated at the time when notification of the death of the candidate was sent to the Minister”.

In other words, the remaining nominees don’t have to go through the entire nomination process again and remain on the ballot. Other candidates may also put themselves forward.

Once the Minister notifies Seymour of a new election date, ballot nominations will re-open for seven days. 

If that happens today, nominations for the fresh election in Tipperary will close at midday on Wednesday next, 12 February. 

Why the two-week gap between nominations closing and an election being held?

Seymour told TheJournal.ie that, firstly, his team of ten people have had to cancel arrangements at the Tipperary count centre including notifying 750 staff that they won’t be counting ballots on Sunday. 

Once he knows the date for the rescheduled election, staff will then be re-hired. 

Legislation also dictates that the Returning Officer must destroy all ballot papers issued to postal voters and special voters. 

In Tipperary, Seymour and his team now need to “formally destroy” approximately 900 of these types of votes they’ve already received. 

“Then we’ve to go and reissue, once we receive new ballot papers after close of nominations, go and re-attend at all the nursing homes and hospitals,” to distribute postal votes, said Seymour. 

Postal ballots will also need to be reissued to Defence Forces members stationed abroad, and members of Ireland’s Diplomatic Corps, amongst others, Seymour said. That’s another 800 votes. 

Why 28 or 29 Feb? 

Seymour said the reason why 29 – or potentially 28 – of February has been mooted for the new poll is in the interest of fairness.

“The last thing I want to do is disenfranchise a voter by cutting short the period for postal votes,” he said. 

“My own view is that [...] it will be another Saturday so it allows the same opportunity for the people in Tipperary to vote on the same day of the week as another constituency”. 

There are five seats up for grabs in Tipperary with 13 candidates running, following Skehan’s passing yesterday. 

The five current TDs are: Independent Mattie McGrath, independent Michael Lowry, Labour’s Alan Kelly, Fianna Fáil’s Jackie Cahill and independent Seamus Healy. 

Independent candidates Lowry, McGrath and Joe Hannigan have said they don’t want the vote to be postponed.  

“We are seeking legal advice to see if it’s constitutionally necessary to postpone the election,” McGrath told TheJournal.ie yesterdayHe also described the situation as “unprecedented”. 

In Seymour’s own view, it’s “a mark of respect” to the family of a deceased candidate that ballot papers are reprinted without their nomination on it. 

Marese Skehan, the candidate who died, was a HSE home support worker. No details of her passing have been released at this time. 

Paying tribute today, HSE Mid West Community Healthcare said staff “are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our colleague Marese Skehan on Monday afternoon. 

“Marese worked tirelessly in the Home Support Services in North Tipperary, she will be sadly missed by her large circle of colleagues.”

Said HSE Mid West Community Healthcare Chief Officer Maria Bridgeman:

It is with great sadness I learned of the untimely death of Marese on Monday. Marese was a dedicated colleague who ensured many people in North Tipperary could receive care in their own homes.  I would like to offer my heartfelt sympathies to Marese’s family, her colleagues and friends.
Full list of candidates in Tipperary: Garret Ahearn (Fine Gael), Martin Browne (Sinn Féin), Dolores Cahill (Irish Freedom Party), Jackie Cahill (Fianna Fáil), Sandra Farrell (Fianna Fáil), Imelda Goldsboro (Fianna Fáil), Joe Hannigan (Indepedent), Seamus Healy (Independent), Alan Kelly (Labour), Michael Lowry (Independent), Mattie McGrath (Independent), Mary Newman Julian (Fine Gael), Rob O’Donnell (Green Party). 

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