Low turnout likely as wintry conditions keep polling stations almost empty
The snow fell across Meath East yesterday and the voters stayed away
Fine Gael candidate Helen McEntee, arrives with her mother Kathleen, sister Sally and brother Vincent to vote in the Meath East by election at Heronstown NS, Lobinstown, Co. Meath. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
It may be only four days to Easter but the landscape around Co Meath yesterday was more reminiscent of Christmas. Arctic showers during the night had left a heavy snowfall throughout the county, making many of the smaller roads hazardous.
It was not the ideal way to start off polling day in the Meath byelection to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Fine Gael TD and minister of state for agriculture Shane McEntee last December. Snow continued to fall throughout the morning.
For the first few hours of polling, the inclement weather and poor conditions had a marked effect on turnout. Voters in the early part of the day trickled into polling stations, with turnout said to be especially low in the rural areas and in the north of the county.
By mid-afternoon there was some pick-up but nothing that could be considered spectacular. Many polling stations were reporting percentages between 12 and 17 per cent by later afternoon.
On those figures, it was unlikely the overall turnout would come anywhere near the 41 per cent for the 1995 byelection in Meath (there was one rather than two constituencies in the county at the time), which saw Shane McEntee elected for the first time.
In Dunboyne, to the south of the county, shortly after 4pm, the turnout was running at 15 per cent, well down on expectations.
Olive Falsey, who was in charge of the polling station at the local senior primary school, said numbers had picked up a little in the afternoon.
“The morning was very slow. There was snow everywhere and there was a very low turnout for the first hour and a half. It had been slow until lunchtime. It is now running at 15 per cent and the expected turnout will be hopefully 30 per cent here,” she added.
“We usually have our peak at teatime when people are returning from work.”
Other polling stations throughout the constituency were reporting similar figures.
Party workers were hoping some people who had intended to vote in the morning had cancelled their plans because of the weather and would vote in the evening instead.
However, while the numbers did pick up after 5.30pm in some polling stations (Moynalty was reported to be doing very well), there was not a huge rush.
Experienced pollsters from the main political parties were predicting a turnout of no more than 35 per cent as of 8pm last night, with some saying it may be even lower than that.
There was no general agreement on how the low turnout would affect candidates’ prospects, other than the majority of voters would be from the core support of the parties and candidates.
Counting in the byelection will begin at 9am in Ashbourne, with the first tallies expected about midday.
Fine Gael’s Helen McEntee and Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne are the joint favourites, while Sinn Féin’s Darren O’Rourke is also expected to improve his party’s share of the vote significantly.