Seanad election: Covid cocooning means new NUI returning officer

Department of Environment rejects plan for Dr Maurice Manning to virtually supervise

Most candidates at all three counts have agreed to stay away from the count and will be kept in touch through streaming and phone, email and social media contact.

Most candidates at all three counts have agreed to stay away from the count and will be kept in touch through streaming and phone, email and social media contact.

 

A new returning officer is to be appointed to supervise a Seanad election panel because of cocooning rules for the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chancellor of the National University of Ireland (NUI) Maurice Manning is also the returning officer but because he is over 70 he will be forced to stay at home.

When the new cocooning rules came into place it was intended, with the approval of the Department of Local Government, that Dr Manning would supervise the university panel election from home, a first in Irish election history.

However, the department pointed to the legislation governing university Seanad elections which provides that the registrar must be in attendance at the count venue.

NUI registrar Dr Attracta Halpin is now set to be the new returning officer and that process is under way.

Under the legislation governing Seanad elections if a returning officer is incapacitated either through ill-health or for other reasons unable to attend, another returning officer shall be appointed.

As well as being chancellor “I’m the designated returning officer for the Seanad elections but I’m also over 70 years of age”, he said. “My duty is to be returning officer but I’m not allowed to be at the venue.”

Despite the pandemic the election is constitutionally obliged to go ahead and cannot be delayed.

“I was all set to go to the count because I’d been out and walking but then when the over 70s cocoon came in, I couldn’t go,” added Dr Manning. “It would be wrong for me to go. I did not want to be an exception to the rule.”

Dr Halpin is chief executive of the election. She said they sought approval from the department to proceed in this way, but at lunchtime on Monday they were informed that Dr Manning could not operate in a virtual capacity and supervise from home.

They had intended to provide a link to the chancellor at his “cocoon” with all the other returning-officer functions done by Dr Halpin in consultation with Dr Manning.

An expert on counts, Dr Halpin said “I’ve done endless election”. But at every election they also have an expert to manage the count and Neil Hanly – who has been returning officer for South Dublin County Council – will advise for the count.

Boxes open

The news of the returning officer’s cocooning emerged as polls closed for the five vocational panels. The opening of boxes began at noon today in the Printworks at Dublin Castle.

The vocational panel counts starts formally at 4pm today and one panel will be counted each day. The Cultural and Educational panel is the first to be counted with 20 contestants competing for five seats.

Counting for the three seats each on the NUI and Trinity College panels begin on Tuesday.

The NUI count takes place at the RDS and the Trinity College count in the university’s exam hall.

As part of measures to prevent the spread of the virus all counting staff will wear protective clothing.

Trinity College sought advice and following public health guidelines officials will wear medical scrubs and gloves if they wish, although this is not recommended. They are advised not to wear masks.

“We’ve appealed to all candidates and their agents not to come into the centre,” Dr Manning added. “Legally they can insist on being there but we’re appealing to their better instincts and we will stream on the NUI website.”

Most candidates at all three counts have agreed to stay away from the count and will be kept in touch through streaming and phone, email and social media contact.