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Polling day: What to watch out for over the next 24 hours

Inside Politics: Brexit was not the dominant theme of the elections as some had predicted

Garda Adrian McGettigan and presiding officer Carmel McBride carry a ballot box to the polling station on the island of Inishbofin. Voters on the remote isle off the coast of Donegal were among the first to cast their ballots in the local and European election. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

There have been some insipid election campaigns in the past but this one is up there with them. There were lots of portentous pronouncements in the run-up to the European elections declaring these were the most important since we joined the EU.

But if they were, that was lost on Joe Public. Voters did not really become engaged until the final days of the campaign. And even then it was almost half-hearted.

Maybe I’m a bit harsh. Maybe like someone who has ran a marathon I’m remembering only the good bits of elections past and forgetting all the excruciating spirit-sapping pain.

But I know I’m not being too harsh. For us political reporters, the word Brexit in is the muscle memory of our fingers. We can hardly type a sentence without mentioning it.


It was certainly a subtext for the local and European elections but it wasn’t a dominant theme. What were dominant were housing, climate change, and (in rural areas) falling livestock prices and common agricultural policy (CAP). The other thing that was noticeable (partly due to the lack of engagement) is that people conflated the local and European elections. Not just did the issues overlap, there was also confusion about who was standing in which election.

The polls opened at 7am this morning and voting will continue until 10pm. Pat Leahy has some interesting stats in his piece on polling today.

As he notes, in the local elections just under 2,000 candidates will contest 949 seats in the 31 local authorities while 59 candidates will contest for 13 seats in three constituencies in the Europeans.

The next 24 hours

So here are a few things to keep in mind while following the events over the next 24 hours.

People vote differently in the European and locals. Sinn Féin got 20 per cent of the vote in the Europeans in 2014 but only managed 15 per cent in the locals. Personality and name recognition are more important in the European ballot, as is a party brand if it is having a “moment”. Because it is a second tier election, people have tended to vote for parties or candidates they would never consider in a general election.

Look at turnout. If it is low, some smaller parties might struggle to make gains, if it is high it means a lot of younger voters have voted. Their votes tend to favour the left-of-centre parties.

RTÉ is conducting an exit poll. Its results will be known later tonight and announced on The Late Late Show. The sample is huge so the margin of error is small. That said, it got the Fianna Fáil vote wrong in 2014. The reason is there are two separate elections, and party vote share can be very different in both. Fianna Fáil did very well in the locals in 2014 but poorly in the Europeans.

And also percentages can be deceptive in local. Look at 2014. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil both won around 25 per cent of the vote, with Fianna Fáil getting slightly more. But Fianna Fail won a far greater number of seats, thanks to winning the last seat in many local electoral area and running slimmer tickets.

So what are the makings of the big stories from these elections.

Who will be the biggest party after the local elections. Fianna Fail had a good election in 2014 and was the biggest party. But both parties are close and Fine Gael has put in a huge campaign in an effort to reestablish primacy.

Midlands North West could be the most interesting constituency. Could Fianna Fáil repeats its strategic blunder of 2014 and end up with zero again in a a constituency where it is the strongest party?

Who will benefit. Could Maria Walsh pull off a coup for Fine Gael? Peter Casey seems to have lost a lot of momentum and all of that has been going to the woman who upstaged him in the final debate, Saoirse McHugh of the Greens. It happened perhaps too late in the campaign for her.

Is she were to win, the Green surge would be a green torrent. The party was demolished in 2011, left with no TDs, only three councillors, and no State funding.

Now it seems on the verge of a big breakthrough on the back of massive support for its policies and agenda from younger people, even children.

The party will easily double its 12 council seats and could win two seats in the European parliament.

Under pressure

Is Sinn Féin experiencing a dip? That will be the analysis if it fails to hold its three European seats. Lynn Boylan could be under pressure from Clare Daly here and there might be marginal doubts over Liadh Ní Riada. The party had a fantastic local election campaign in 2014. It might find it hard to consolidate those seats.

Ireland South might produce another surprise. It could be a seat for Mick Wallace or Grace O'Sullivan. And it also could be two Fianna Fáil seats. But if that were to happen it would really have to come at the expense of Fine Gael. In the last few days too, there have been some nerves about Barry Andrews in Dublin city.

It will be interesting to see where Labour are. They are definitely recovering but that might be emasculated somewhat if the Greens have a very good election, because its gains will come partly at the expense of Labour.

It must be remembered too that both People Before Profit and Solidarity had strong local elections performances in 2014 and could also make gains.

Remember, it’s not going to be quick. It will be late Saturday before we get an indication of the lie of the land on the locals, and the patter in the Europeans will only begin to emerge on Sunday afternoon.

Best Reads

It is good to see the huge number of non-Irish born candidates in the local elections. But there has been a downside - Jack Power reports on racism in the campaign trail.

Pat Leahy reports on the final day of the campaign and notes all parties predict a low turnout because of a lack of engagement.


The first event will be the RTÉ exit poll on the Late late Show tonight. We will also get an indication of turnout and if it is, indeed, low.

The votes will be separated and sorted tomorrow allowing tallies on the locals. They are never as reliable as in general elections.

By tomorrow night we will see the shape of most of the local authorities, although some counts will creep into Sunday morning.

On Sunday, counting will start for the European elections in the three constituencies. We will have full tallies by early afternoon although it could be Monday before we have the final results. Indeed, five years ago Midlands North West dragged on for another two days.

Counting on the mayoral plebiscites in the three cities as well as the referendum (yes there is one, on divorce) will take place after the other counts have been completed.