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"The most long-winded recount ever": What happens next in Ireland South?

A full re-count has been announced in Ireland South following a request by Liadh Ní Riadha.

The re-count centres around the ballots separating Liadh Ní Riada and Grace O'Sullivan.
The re-count centres around the ballots separating Liadh Ní Riada and Grace O'Sullivan.
Image: RollingNews.ie

A FULL RECOUNT has been ordered for the Ireland South constituency, meaning it could be weeks until we know for sure which five candidates will be elected MEPs. 

The decision to hold the re-count was announced today and will see over 750,000 votes re-counted.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Dr Jennifer Kavanagh, a law lecturer in Waterford Institute of Technology and an expert on electoral law, said that the recount would probably be the “most long-winded recount ever” in Ireland’s history. 

With hundreds of thousands of votes cast across a geographical area that stretches from Wicklow to Kerry, Kavanagh compared it to re-counting a presidential election. 

Why?

The re-count has been ultimately called to determine who will hold the fifth and final “Brexit” seat in the constituency. Only 327 votes separated the Green Party’s Grace O’Sullivan and Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riadha after the 18th count, following the election of Fine Gael’s Seán Kelly and Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher. 

Both Kelly and Kelleher, alongside Independent Mick Wallace, are still practically guaranteed seats following the re-count. The real focus will be on Ní Riadha, the only sitting Sinn Féin MEP in Ireland South, as she tries to find votes to take her ahead of O’Sullivan or Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune for the fifth seat.

The recount will begin on Tuesday, 4 June at 9am and there have been suggestions that it could cost up to €1 million

It could also take up to 28 days, because counters will not be working full-time. 

How do recounts happen?

Today was spent re-checking votes to determine whether O’Sullivan or Ní Riadha would take the seat. The re-check was requested by Sinn Féin and involved an examination of each bundle of 50 votes belonging to O’Sullivan and Ni Riada to ensure they had been allocated correctly. Following the completion, either party had the option of requesting a recount.

The returning officer adjudicates on whether there is a good reason for a re-count. The Ireland South Returning Officer, Martin Harvey, today said: “Having completed the recheck of Liadh Ní Riada and Grace O’Sullivan’s papers, Liadh Ní Riada has confirmed that she wishes to proceed with a full recount of all the papers.”

Technically and legally-speaking, it is the candidates’ agents who formally request the re-count from the returning officer.  Every candidate must have an election agent (though they may act as their own agent) to deal with some of the more procedural aspects of an election, such as interactions with the returning officer or the Standards in Public Office Commission, which regulates election spending.

One famous recount happened in Cork South Central in the 2002 general election, in which Fianna Fáil TD John Dennehy, who initially lost the election by two votes, then won it by six. However major recounts, especially of this scale, are rare. 

Could it end up in the courts?

Any re-count has the potential to end up in the courts. Typically, this involves a challenge to a decision of the returning officer. But the spectre of a long courtroom battle over ballot papers is unlikely as thing stand – Kavanagh said that Ireland doesn’t have a long history of challenging decisions of the Returning Officer.

Typically, there is a more of a mediation process between candidates, candidates’ agents and the returning officer.

One major exception to this is the Kiely case – infamous among politicians and election-watchers alike. The 2014 case, brought by former Fianna Fáil senator Dan Kiely, saw the Supreme Court determine whether or not a ballot paper with a sequence of preferences that do not begin with ’1′ is valid. In the end, the court unanimously upheld a claim by Kiely that there was a mistake in the conduct of the election for a seat on Kerry County Council. 

When will be know the result?

We don’t know. Expectations are that it could take a month, but that remains to be seen. The result may or may not change, but in four to five weeks time we should know for sure. As Sinn Féin’s Director of Elections Jonathan O’Brien told RTÉ today: “Will it make a material difference? The only way we will know is to have a full recount.”

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