Senator cannot vote in Seanad election but wife, daughter cast ballots as NUI graduates

Most unusual election in history of Seanad gets underway at Dublin Castle

Lisa Chambers: Fianna Fáil has 10 former TDs in the running for the Seanad including the party’s high-profile Brexit spokeswoman. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Lisa Chambers: Fianna Fáil has 10 former TDs in the running for the Seanad including the party’s high-profile Brexit spokeswoman. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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Counting begins on Monday in probably the most unusual election in the history of the Seanad.

As contingency measures are made to conduct the election which must go ahead because of constitutional obligations, Cathaoirleach Denis O’Donovan appealed to candidates and their agents to waive their legal right to attend the counts at three locations across Dublin.

He said that for candidates and their agents to attend the counts “goes against the spirit of what the Government is trying to do to stop spread of Covid-19”.

There are 118 candidates in the vocational panel election and Mr O’Donovan said that if every agent and candidate attended over the course of the five-day count in Dublin Castle “you’d have somewhere around 500 people milling in and out of the hall”.

On the vocational panels 118 candidates are contesting 43 seats with a total electorate of 1,169 comprising Dáil, Seanad and councillors.

And now there will be one less voter because US-based Senator Billy Lawless was unable to get back to Ireland to vote.

Mr Lawless whose six family-run Chicago restaurants had to close with over 500 employees laid off , could not meet the legal requirement that Senators and TDs who vote in the Seanad elections must have the opening of their ballot papers witnessed by either the clerk of the Seanad or Dáil or their assistant clerks, or by a local authority or Garda Superintendent.

In a bid to vote he asked Irish Consul General in Chicago Brian O’Brien to act as witness.

“We videoed it. He said that he was witnessing me open my ballot papers, and I’m now going to vote and he stamped the envelope, not the papers of course that I voted on with the Consul General’s stamp, but it was unacceptable.”

He said its was ironic because “my wife Anne and daughter Clodagh are alumni of NUIG so they vote for the National University of Ireland nominations unsupervised and I have to be supervised”.

Counting for the 43 seats on the five vocational panels starts on Monday at Dublin Castle at 4pm following the opening of boxes at noon, a late and slow start to allow for social distancing between count staff.

Six seats

Counting for the six seats on the university panels begins on Tuesday.

The vocational panels election count is expected to be fraught with some analysts predicting a Dublin “bloodbath” because there are so many candidates from the same areas seeking the same votes of the local councillors they know well.

Many of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil candidates are former TDs who lost their seats. Fianna Fáil has 10 in the running including high-profile Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers and former communications spokesman Timmy Dooley along with more than 20 local councillors.

The party is confident however that after a “fragmented” first-preference vote, the electorate will vote along party lines and they expect about 14 or 15 Seanad seats.

Fine Gael has 35 candidates running for the Seanad including former TDs, among them Ministers of State Finance Michael D’Arcy and Sean Kyne and former TDs Noel Rock and Tom Neville

Labour is likely to win four seats, the Greens three and Sinn Féin could hold its current five seats. Independent candidates are also expected to do well.