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09 June 2024

Vote counting under way in Ireland’s European elections

09 June 2024

Vote counting in Ireland’s European elections is under way while the picture of the country’s local government is continuing to take shape.

As counting in the local elections goes on, the fate of the political parties and independents will become clear throughout the day.

Early indications show there will be no Sinn Fein surge, while Government parties do not appear to have suffered a major electoral blow.

Members of Sinn Fein, Ireland’s main opposition party, said they will “dust themselves down” after early indications showed the party has not had the result it hoped for in the local elections.

On Saturday, the public expenditure minister said the expectation that Sinn Fein would be in the next government has been “shattered” by the initial indications in the local elections.

The party faces a tough battle over the weekend after government parties Fianna Fail and Fine Gael appeared on Saturday to have polled strongly.

Irish voters have voted to elect almost 1,000 new councillors, 14 members to the European Parliament and, for the first time, one city’s citizens were asked to pick their mayor.

Tally indications on Saturday showed a predicted surge in the Sinn Fein vote has not materialised in the local elections while the Government coalition parties welcomed early results.

Despite winning 24.5% of first preference votes in a historic result in the 2020 general election, and hovering above 30% in opinion polls for a long time, the fate of many of Sinn Fein’s candidates are expected to depend on transfers.

However, Sinn Fein is expected to still make some gains on the 2019 election, where it won around 9% of first preference votes and 81 council seats out of 949.

Sinn Fein TD for Donegal Pearse Doherty told RTE’s Six One programme on Saturday that it will make gains in some counties but members will have to “dust themselves down” and look at “lessons that can be learned”.

Cork North Central TD Thomas Gould said the party still has a chance of increasing its seats across Cork city and county.

“It’s just that we don’t know how much yet,” he said at the Cork City Hall count centre, adding that despite poor turnout in some core areas, “we’re hopeful”.

Ireland’s deputy premier Micheal Martin argued his Fianna Fail party had performed “far better” than predicted, while Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said the results so far showed Fine Gael was not a spent political force.

Finance Minister Michael McGrath said there had been “no massive breakthrough” for the far right in the Irish elections, despite concerns raised during the campaign.

“The early tallies show that there is a large majority of people who are willing to vote in a very different way to how extremists and the far right will make the case for,” Mr Donohoe said.

“I think there is a very compelling narrative to be made – at a very early stage in this – that Fine Gael has been successful in getting out its votes, that our campaign has made a difference, and that the approach of the Government parties has been recognised by voters.”

Overall, the portrayal that some have offered of Fine Gael as a tired party – that narrative, that claim, has been shattered by the results that we’re seeing potentially coming through at the moment

Despite the strong showing for government parties so far, ministers stuck to the line that the coalition government would “go the full distance” to February or March before a general election is called.

Asked about Fine Gael’s performance compared with Sinn Fein, Mr Donohoe said: “Overall, the portrayal that some have offered of Fine Gael as a tired party – that narrative, that claim, has been shattered by the results that we’re seeing potentially coming through at the moment.

“And the other narrative that there’s anything inevitable about Sinn Fein being in government – that’s been shattered too.”

Mr Martin said the focus would be on putting together a budget for October as his party looked to win an MEP seat in the Midlands-North-West constituency for the first time in 15 years.

“The idea that Fianna Fail would be coming in a distant third is completely disproven,” the Tanaiste said.

“I’ve been looking at opinion polls now for the last three years. This ‘internet panel’ polling having Fianna Fail at 14% and 15% – clearly Fianna Fail will be well ahead of that and will be over 20% by the time all of these counts are collated and put together.

“We put up a very robust performance and we’re holding our own compared to our performance in the general election of 2020.”

The full results of the elections will take days to be finalised due to Ireland’s system of proportional representation which allows voters to rank every candidate in each race by order of preference. The process means ballot papers are sorted and counted multiple times by hand.

Counting in the European elections began on Sunday morning and the results of the first tally will not be declared until after 10pm due to ongoing voting in other EU states.

Irish politics is currently dominated by a housing crisis, the cost of living and migration.

The coalition partnership of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party has been battling criticism domestically and on the continent over other issues including climate action, agriculture policy and defence co-operation in the EU.

The polls will provide political parties with evidence of voter sentiment, having had to wait more than four years since the last nationwide elections.

They are also an indicator of how new Fine Gael leader and Irish premier Simon Harris is faring, having assumed the roles around eight weeks ago after the shock resignation of Leo Varadkar.

Before the count for the European elections began, segregating of the ballot papers allowed observers to get a sense of which candidates are performing well.

In Dublin, incomplete tallies suggested Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews and Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty were leading.

Green Party incumbent Ciaran Cuffe, Independent Ireland candidate Niall Boylan, Labour representative Aodhan O Riordain and Sinn Fein hopefuls Daithi Doolan and Lynn Boylan will be fighting over the remaining two seats.

In the South constituency, Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly and Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher are considered to be in contention for re-election.

Sinn Fein will be hoping to regain a seat in the region with Kathleen Funchion, while Independent TD Michael McNamara is predicted to take the fourth seat.

In Midlands-North-West, there are 27 candidates fighting for five seats in the massive electoral region which spans 15 counties.

Fine Gael is running former jockey Nina Carberry alongside incumbent MEP Maria Walsh, while Fianna Fail has fielded three candidates: Lisa Chambers, Barry Cowen and Niall Blaney.

Doubt has been raised over Sinn Fein’s chances after splitting the vote with two hopefuls: current MEP Chris MacManus and Michelle Gildernew.

Observers eyeballing stacks of ballots processed by first-preference determined the main contenders, by midday, were Ms Walsh, Mr Cowen, and Independent candidate Luke “Ming” Flanagan, with Ms Carberry, Ms Chambers, Mr MacManus and Aontu leader Peadar Toibin also performing well.

Speaking to reporters at the TF Royal count centre in Castlebar, Co Mayo, Mr Flanagan said: “There’s quite a lot of candidates here who are going to get a significant amount of votes and I think it’s nearly odds on that we’re going to have some sort of a recount.

“All I know is we booked a place to stay for the next week in Castlebar.”

In the south west, voters in Limerick city and county had the opportunity to directly elect a mayor with executive powers on long-term strategic planning.

Tallies show that Independent candidate John Moran, a former secretary general at the Department of Finance, is in the lead, with Independent candidate Helen O’Donnell in second place.

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