​Following the vote-counting process is always a serious sport in the Republic of Ireland. This year, local and EU parliamentary elections were held on Friday July 7.

Published: 19 June 2024

I arrived in Dublin on the 8th and left on the 11th, by which time the local results were almost complete but several EU counts were still in full swing. The disparity was because there could be no declaration of EU results until after 10 p.m. on Sunday, when voting had ended in all of the member states.

Speculation was already rampant, for in Ireland it is fanned by tallymen provided by political parties to count preferences in visible voting papers and estimate who will win and lose. They are skilled, but not infallible. And the complexity of proportional representation is daunting. One friend described facing an EU ballot paper with 23 candidates for four seats. His principle was to put the one he most feared/loathed/despised at number 23 and work backwards.

The process is cruel. Fortunes ebb and flow, dark horses come out of nowhere to triumph and favourites crash.

Ireland is intensely political, but although I am closely related to the Fianna Fail Lenihan dynasty, I have never liked their party, I deplored crooked, corrupt but charismatic Charlie Haughey.

Fine Gael’s history as pro-Treaty law-and-order standard bearers always seemed preferable, but in recent years Leo Varadkar’s vacillation, crowd-pleasing, and irresponsibility over Northern Ireland, made me much prefer the likeable and honest Micheál Martin. Both of them have been in my view wrong about Israel, but so are Irish nationalists island-wide.

I didn’t have a vote, but for me and some of my friends this election was straightforward: almost anyone but Sinn Féin, the Greens (who in their present incarnation have turned naivete into a dangerous ideology that is causing mayhem around Europe), or Clare Daly and Mick Wallace of the far-left Independents 4 Change. Both loathe the United States, against which they rant in the name of anti-militarism and peace and are very popular with such totalitarian regimes as China, Iran, Russia and Syria. Both lost.

Michelle Gildernew had a slim possibility of winning Midlands-North-West constituency until after the 21st count was declared in the early hours of Friday.

I’d forgotten how intense and exhausting are multi-seat PR elections. One commentator described those involved or even just caught up as spectators feeling like contestants They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? — the Jane Fonda movie about shattered marathon dancers during the US Great Depression. Anyone new to PR asks “Why is it taking so long?” “Can’t they do it electronically? “

Spectators love it: politicians mostly hate it, which is why Bertie Ahern — embarrassed that Ireland would be going into the 21st century “a laughing stock with our stupid old pencils” — decided to get rid of it. It was a foolish move for such a clever politician.

Electronic voting could produce election results within a few hours, thus depriving the public of days torturing candidates.

The state spent €51 million on 7,500 shiny Dutch machines, but concerns over the security and privacy of ballots resulted eventually in the return to the pencil, the expenditure of £800,00 annually on storage, and an eventual sale of the lot to a metal-recycling firm for £70,000.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone has repeatedly had the highest turn-out (and the smallest winning margin) of any constituency in Northern Ireland — 57 last time. In 1981 when Sinn Féin ran Bobby Sands, John Hume fatefully prevented his SDLP party from running against him. IRA apologists got a grip that has rarely been loosened.

Ms Gildernew was its Sinn Féin MP from 2001 until now for all but two years, but was then was instructed at hardly any notice to stand instead for the enormous EU five-seater Midlands-North-West European , which runs from the Atlantic to the Irish Sea, taking in the six border counties of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan and Louth, as well as Galway, Kildare, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo and Westmeath. She tried and failed.

Her career has been ruined.

The local results were terrible for Sinn Féin. This election isn’t sport. It’s serious. Unionists should be striving night and day to ensure that the Sinn Féin HQ-imposed Pat Cullen loses Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

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