Sinnott in by a whisker, but recounts may snatch victory away


ANALYSIS/Independents: Tension mounted last night as the recount continued in Cork South Central where the Independent candidate, Ms Kathy Sinnott, had shocked the major party machines by taking the fifth seat with a margin of just three votes.

The US-born disability rights campaigner who took the State to court for failing to provide an education for her autistic son said she was confident she would withstand the challenge of the Fianna Fáil challenger, Mr John Dennehy.

"There will probably be a number of recounts, but I think I am going to do this," she said. "I have to admit to having this feeling of déjà vu.

"I went to the High Court and the decision was appealed so I have concerns about this being taken away."

Ms Sinnott said she had polled very well because people recognised her genuine respect for the vulnerable and neglected in society.

Voters, she said, also sensed her lack of interest in career politics and were intrigued by her message of "people first".

"I think voters wanted someone to speak out on their behalf, a person who is really interested in their problems. Many politicians are only interested in pensions, salaries and prestige. My work has always been in the volunteer sector and there is respect for that."

Ms Sinnott said members of the press were the only people surprised by her strong performance in the election.

She spoke yesterday of the phenomenal reception she had been given on the campaign trail where she was invited in for tea and coffee and made feel like an ordinary person rather than a politician.

The Independent candidate said Fianna Fáil canvassers were also aware that she posed a considerable threat to the political veteran, Mr Dennehy.

He was unable to capitalise on the massive transfer vote of his running mate, Mr Micheál Martin, who was elected on the first count.

"Fianna Fáil want an overall majority more than anything," Ms Sinnott said. "They certainly don't want to have the likes of me in the Dáil talking about respecting people.

"There was a lot of cynicism about my campaign from the party. They were seriously worried about me making inroads."

She announced her candidacy late in the campaign, claiming her decision to enter was finalised when she read the recent Education for Persons with Disabilities bill.

She felt the voice of disabled people was not being heard and decided to enter the race in order to defend the rights of the vulnerable and powerless.

However, she denies being a single-issue candidate, claiming if elected to the Dáil she will work on issues such as crime, housing and health.

"The State is supposed to be about people and for people," she said. "I'll represent vulnerable people who don't feel protected by the State. I'll also speak on behalf of people who have childcare, housing and health concerns."

Meanwhile, around 18,000 votes cast for Mr Dennehy and Ms Sinnott were being recounted and re-examined at Cork City Hall yesterday.

Fianna Fáil advisers have taken legal advice in relation to the count, with the party hoping Mr Dennehy can be re-elected alongside his party colleagues, Mr Batt O'Keefe and Mr Martin.

A Green Party councillor, Mr Dan Boyle, and Mr Simon Coveney of Fine Gael took two of the remaining seats in the Cork South Central constituency.

Mr Coveney battled to save his seat after a vote-management system worked against him, with his running mate, Ms Deirdre Clune, polling more first-preference votes in the first count.

Mr Boyle was predicted to take a seat as his profile has been heightened by his opposition to a proposed incineration facility for Ringaskiddy, Co Cork.