Election decision places Kerry council in ‘uncharted waters’

Meeting told costs in case linked to counting of local election votes to be ‘significant’

Kerry politician Dan Kiely leaving the Four Courts after the Supreme Court ruling that a mistake was made in the counting of ballots in Kerry County Council’s Listowel area in the 2014 local elections Photograph: Courts Collins.

Kerry politician Dan Kiely leaving the Four Courts after the Supreme Court ruling that a mistake was made in the counting of ballots in Kerry County Council’s Listowel area in the 2014 local elections Photograph: Courts Collins.

 

A Supreme Court ruling that a mistake was made in the counting of ballots in Kerry County Council’s Listowel area in the 2014 local elections places the local authority in uncharted territory, councillors have been told.

Close to 15,000 ballot papers now have to be inspected and recounted after unsuccessful candidate Dan Kiely took a legal challenge to the result after only a handful of votes separated him and two other candidates.

The cost of the appeal against the council would be “significant”, the local authority’s Christmas meeting heard on Monday. It was also told there were “landmines ahead” and that the council should proceed with caution.

The Supreme Court decision was reached on Thursday in an appeal a taken by Mr Kiely, a former Fianna Fáil senator, who lost out by two votes to Fine Gael’s Mike Kennelly.

The court heard there was confusion as the local election ballot papers were distributed at the same time as European election papers. Some of the local papers had no first or second preference marked on them but were allowed in the count despite the preferences on them beginning at number three.

Number sequence

The court upheld Mr Kiely’s claim there was a “mistake” in the conduct of the local election. This arose from the inclusion in the count of votes which contained a sequence of numbers not starting with the number ‘one’.

The matter is now to go to the Circuit Court to oversee the count and the counicl was urged to see to this as soon as possible.

Council chief executive Moira Murrell said the Supreme Court’s was “a landmark decision” which would impact on all future elections. “The issue is not specifically for Kerry but the most immediate impact will be in Kerry,” she said.

Ms Murrell said the council had acted in accordance with guidelines in the form of a memorandum issued by the Department of the Environment in the count, she said.

The Supreme Court had yet to make an order but it was clear it would have to go back to the Circuit Court where a judge would oversee the new count. Until then it was business as usual and decisions and committees were legal, she said.

Sinn Féin councillor Patrick Daly, a solicitor, said the council was in “uncharted waters” and should proceed with caution.

Cllr Michael Cahill (Ind) urged management to see that the count would take place as soon as possible.

Several councillors said Kerry should not be held liable for the costs with Cllr Brendan Cronin (Ind) saying ratepayers should not foot the bill for a mistake which was ultimately because of guidelines issued by the Department of the Environment.