Boundary blues and barbecue bliss add to atmosphere at count
Local elections 2019
A festival-like atmosphere presided outside St Joseph's Community Centre in Wexford over the weekend, with a gourmet fast food van keeping candidates and their possies' fed, and people lapping up the warm sunshine, while 150 plus counters beavered away inside, filling cubbyholes with candidates' votes.
It was hotter than hell in the centre, as seasoned party members crunched the numbers, drilling through them to try and make sense of a local election count that dragged on and on and on.
The decision to open the boxes in County Hall, sort the votes, reseal them and bring them by garda escort to St Joseph's was queried by many, who, by darkness fall on Saturday night wondered when they would be seeing their beds.
The tallymen and women had been out since 7.30 a.m. on Saturday setting up camp around the rectangular enclosure at County Hall. With three papers per voter squeezed in each box, it took until late afternoon on Saturday for the ballot papers to be separated into three bundles. The opening of the boxes was carried out under the supervision of the County Registrar and European Local Returning Officer Marie Garahy. Once the votes were separated and the ballot paper accounts reconciled, the County Registrar ensured the safe transfer of the European ballot papers under army escort to the count centre for Ireland South in Cork.
Local Election ballot papers were transferred to Local Elections Returning Officer Eddie Taaffe, who brought them under supervised escort to the count centre at St. Joseph's for the start of the counting and sorting process at what was a ticketed event, in a process straight out of a Kafka novel. There, six separate simultaneous local election counts - one for each electoral area - got under way.
By early afternoon a picture was emerging of how the parties were faring. It quickly became apparent that for Sinn Fein it was going to be a bloodbath and so it transpired to be, with 2016 General Election candidate Johnny Mythen failing to retain a seat in the reduced Enniscorthy district, along with Mick Roche in the new Rosslare municipal district and Cllr Marie Doyle in the shrunken New Ross district.
People across the political spectrum were scratching their heads with their phone free hand, baffled at how a party which rode the wave of the Fine Gael government's property and water charges in 2014, could get swept aside in a tsunami of conservative and Independent votes this time around. Meanwhile candidates, including Fine Gael's John Hegarty - who was dressed in holiday wear at County Hall - was so confident of victory he put his face on the cover of Time magazine.
'There was a big swing in New Ross to Fine Gael. Unfortunately they fell off it,' declared Wexford poll topper George Lawlor, referencing Maria Bailey's ill judged lawsuit against a Dublin hotel.
Fine Gael's director of elections for Wexford, Martin Lawlor was philosophical about how the party fared in the six elections. 'It's as you were. We'll retain nine seats. It's Ok given that we didn't go up in the polls. It's a midterm election and voters have exercised their franchise.'
TD Michael D'Arcy Jnr was clearly singing from the same hymn sheet, putting a positive gloss on the party's prospects.
'We will hold on to our nine seats. You would always be hoping to do better but this is our second mid-term election so this is quite a good performance.'
Mr D'Arcy said the boundary changes negatively affected some Fine Gael incumbents, including Paddy Kavanagh and Jim Moore, the former losing his seat, with Kilmore Quay man Moore getting through following a nervous wait.
Fine Gael's Frank Staples said the party were slaughtered in 2014 with water charges the talk of the canvasses, but he had a good feeling as the days ticked down to this year's election that he would get over the line and so he did.
As the wait for the first count dragged on, people had to look to Britain for consolation.
'The end of May is the end of June this year,' one candidate declared with a chuckle, while a south west Wexford politico said: 'You wouldn't want to buying a dozen mackeral off of any of them counters. By the time they were finished counting them the last one would be rotten!' after a particularity long surplus count of a few dozen votes for Gorey,
To the utter disbelief of everyone gathered the first count didn't take place until shortly before 1 a.m. on Sunday.
The big winners were Fianna Fáil's Malcolm Byrne who made a brief appearance at the count centre as his attention was also very much on the European Election, Labour's George Lawlor and Independent Cllr Ger Carthy, who racked up around 7,500 votes between them.
Joined by his sons Michael and Daniel, Ger couldn't contain his excitement at 'landslide victory'.
Carrying on from his father Leo who was a councillor for 49 years, Ger said he felt proud to be the next generation, bringing the Carthy name forward into it's 55th year in local politics, as he looked down at his sons, one or two of whom might one day carry on to the Carthy name into politics.
The tears were flowing, the legs were going, the chins were up and down as the results came in thick and fast on Sunday morning, into the early afternoon. All around the count centre people stared bleary eyed at count sheets trying to make sense of the numbers.
'Day 2 at Big Brother House,' Labour hopeful Joe Ryan declared early on Sunday, prior to his elimination.
'We should be done for the Queen's speech at Christmas,' a bemused Cllr Michael Sheehan said as counting on the New Ross electoral area ground to a halt on Sunday.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin was also feeling the time lag, saying: 'It's so slow it draws the marrow from your bones.'
For some the wait proved unbearable and tempers began to flare on Sunday afternoon as candidates who knew they were going to be elected raged against the machine, whose cogs were seemingly turning slower before their eyes.
After a quarter of a century representing Enniscorthy, Fianna Fáil's Keith Doyle was in tears as he came to terms with the end of a career which had many highs, including the 12 months leading up to the election when he was chairman of Wexford County Council. His posters shouted that he had given back around €40,000 to his area by not claiming chairman's allowances. Goes to show being nice gets you nowhere in local politics.
For Fine Gael candidates, the party's strategy just didn't make sense, especially in the Rosslare and New Ross electoral areas, for some.
'Three into five doesn't go in Rosslare,' one party member confided in me, within earshot of Paul Kehoe TD.
The Rosslare district was known as the group of death with five sitting councillors and two strong newcomers in Jim Codd (AON) and Fianna Fáil's Michael Wallace. Eventually Codd got the nod and won out.
By mid-afternoon on Sunday it was squeaky bum time for several sitting councillors who were expected to sail back into county hall, namely Fionntáin Ó'Suilleabháin, Jim Moore, Paddy Kavanagh, Anthony Connick.
'People were saying I'd definitely get through and that was a kiss of death.' Jim Moore said, but the kiss didn't prove fatal.
The scattering of transfers across the new districts from party candidates to non party candidates and back, left many seasoned analysts throwing their eyes to heaven.
The biggest cheer of the weekend rang out for Labour's Maura Bell who is used to battles, working at the Irish National Heritage Park, for which she has successfully secured millions in funding
By the time the Wexford Local elections count wrapped up shortly after 8 p.m. on Sunday, the theatre of dreams saw 34 candidates hoisted up on the shoulders of family members and battle hardened canvassers, while the defeated were left licking their wounds. 'It's a tough day. People put a lot of time, effort and money into getting elected only to come up short by a few dozen votes,' one man said, lamenting a friend's loss of his seat following a bruising and exhausting few days which played out like a Wexford Game of Thrones: ending with a whimper with no party claiming a decisive victory.