Fox supporters elated after a weary, emotional recount
There were emotional scenes at the Wicklow count centre in Arklow on Saturday night as the last seat in the 29th Dáil was assigned to the Independent candidate, Ms Mildred Fox.
Fox supporters who had waited more than a week were jubilant, while supporters of the Labour candidate, Mr Nicky Kelly, could only add disappointment to fatigue. Thanking his supporters, Mr Kelly wished Ms Fox well and vowed that the Labour party would secure a second seat in Wicklow at the next general election.
At just less than 30 per cent of the vote, the party was within 2 per cent of Fianna Fáil, which took the first and fourth seat in the five-seater constituency.
According to sitting Labour party deputy Ms Liz McManus, the wait showed how "every single vote and transfer counts". Referring to earlier controversy over disallowed ballot papers, Ms McManus said she did not believe the number found not to be correctly perforated by a polling station device could be as high as 300. She suggested it may be as low as 30. Other Labour sources suggested the ballot papers, which were all from the east ward in the Bray area, numbered 87.
However, the Fianna Fáil TD for Wicklow, Mr Dick Roche, insisted he had lost 135 votes due to the error and had seen other candidates' papers, which brought the total to about 200. He also said a further check of a bundle of almost 2,000 votes assigned to Ms McManus from the Bray area would reveal "at least as many votes as I lost in that area, it would have to".
Mr Roche said it was an important issue as the McManus transfers to Mr Kelly could affect the outcome. Should Mr Kelly emerge with more votes than Ms Fox, he said, Ms Fox would be within her rights to demand another recount.
In the event, Mr Kelly was 19 votes behind Ms Fox's total of 8,688 and the issue did not arise.
There was also speculation about the high turnout of Fianna Fáil lawyers and officials to advise Ms Fox. Neither Fianna Fáil nor Ms Fox's supporters would comment on a rumour that Ms Fox was to be offered a junior ministry at the Department of Agriculture to copperfasten her support for a Fianna Fáil government.
The move would see Ms Fox replace the constituency's sitting junior minister, Mr Joe Jacob. Mr Jacob's vote compared badly with his previous performance, possibly because of his poor performance articulating Ireland's nuclear emergency plans. The move would also incense Mr Roche, who has spoken of his own ministerial potential a number of times.
Following his poll-topping vote, Mr Roche's supporters are linking him with a senior ministry. The prospects for Ms Fox could not be confirmed, and remain one rumour of the long count. Another feature of the count was the deteriorating relationship between party activists, the returning officer and the media.
Having discovered a microphone hanging down into the count area from a press box late on Saturday, returning officer Ms Breda Allen began Sunday by removing all microphones from the hall. Ms Allen said she feared the journalist concerned might record "some back-biting" among the many huddled groups of lawyers and party officials.
Ms Allen also excluded the public and press from the hall for much of Saturday as she inputted figures into a computer. Her staff also took issue with a report on East Coast Radio, which they claimed criticised the pace of the count. Starved of information, people outside the hall were turning angry by the time Ms Allen said they could return.
As the final count was read out, however, Mr Kelly, tear-stained but smiling, hugged Ms Allen and thanked her for her diligence. Fox supporters, whooping with joy, threw their re-elected TD into the air.
Wicklow, the last seat to be filled in the 29th Dáil, is also likely to make history as the last seat to be filled by a manual count.