Labour takes legal advice as race for last seat in Wicklow proves agonisingly close


NEWS: Legal advice was being taken by the Labour Party yesterday on the outcome of the general election in Wicklow.

The advice was sought after it emerged on Saturday night that Independent Ms Mildred Fox was just 47 votes ahead of Labour's Nicky Kelly in the race for the last seat.

Counting was halted after four of the outgoing TDs - Dick Roche and Joe Jacob of Fianna Fáil, Liz McManus of Labour, and Billy Timmons of Fine Gael - had been deemed elected by the presiding officer, Ms Breda Allen.

With the fifth seat still in the balance, checking of all candidates' votes got under way yesterday morning as a lawyer, Mr Richard Humphreys, arrived to advise an anxious-looking Mr Kelly.

After discussions between Ms Allen, Mr Humphreys and Mr Kelly, as well as Mildred Fox's supporters, it was decided to re-examine every vote, to ensure it was assigned to the right candidate. Any ballot paper which might have been suspect was to be flagged with a yellow Post-it note.

After this process, Ms Allen inspected each flagged vote in the company of representatives of both candidates.

By teatime yesterday as the inspection continued, Mr Kelly said just 16 votes now separated him from Ms Fox. He also said that regardless of the outcome of the checking process, a full recount would be required, given the closeness of the vote.

As speculation as to other possible discrepancies spread, supporters for both camps claimed their own vote was hardening. Later, Labour sources said the gap had reduced even further. One group of Labour tallymen suggested they had identified 13 parcels of Kelly votes that had been described as containing 50 votes each, but which actually contained 51 votes. The difference would be an extra 13 votes for Mr Kelly.

Asked if he was satisfied with the re-check, Mr Kelly said it was merely a preliminary to a full recount. "We could be going to court yet," he said.

However, Ms Fox, who said on Saturday night that she was not surprised to be fighting for a seat, was confident that her vote would remain ahead of Mr Kelly's.

Her supporters indicated that the checking process had also uncovered votes - one source suggested eight - which had not properly been credited to Ms Fox.

While the candidates were grim-faced throughout the second day of counting, relations between both were cordial, with Ms Fox's supporters acknowledging Mr Kelly's interest in a recount.

Throughout the day, a number of party workers, count staff and the plain curious turned up to offer advice and speculate as to the content of Joe Jacob's surplus, which has yet to be distributed.

Correction: In an earlier edition of this story it was stated that the Labour Party's legal adviser assisted Mr Michael McDowell in the Dublin South East recount in 1997. The Party has asked us to point out that its legal adviser was not invovled in assisting Mr McDowell.