Diary of Count Centre Election Reporter at #ge16

Louth Lock Down

Saturday 27 February 2016

I arrive in the media room at 8 am to meet the rest of the media team. Already small groups have begun to gather in the Ramada Resort Hotel, Dundalk. Everybody is anxious about the day ahead. How will it go? Will there be any surprises or Government causalities? It is rumoured that Super Junior Minister, Ged Nash will be one of these causalities.

The count room is locked and wax-sealed shut. The ballot boxes inside are under lock and key. The outcome has already been decided even if the result is still unknown.

Louth Lock Down
Louth Lock Down Stephen Walker (BBC NI)

Surprisingly, before boxes open at 9am, none of the realistic contenders for the 5 seats in Louth are around. Maybe they are having a well-earned lie in after a grueling campaign. Or maybe they are seasoned enough to know that, as long as their tallymen are there – and they are there in force – there is no need for them to be. Besides, as I find out later, the real business won’t be announced until 5 p.m. It’s going to be a long day I guess.

Soon after the doors open I learn more about that electoral species – “Tallyman”. This strange creature dominates the early proceedings and is the alpha male of the count centre. They jealously guard their territory and, that other species, “naïve virgin reporter” must thread carefully in their midst. It requires little sustenance to get them through the count, other than an unofficial vote count from its fellow Tallyman. With this fuel they power on for an immeasurable amount of time, keeping a close eye on the election counters – who are officially appointed to count the votes.

Opening the Doors
Opening the Doors – Peter Kearney

Tallyman’s lack of official status doesn’t reduce the importance that it holds itself in. Nor does it affect the attention to detail it gives to their quasi-voluntary role. Like I said, one threads carefully in their territory and one certainly does not speak unless spoken to.

That being said the naive virgin reporter would have a much more difficult job without their aid. Their tallies of first votes are 95% accurate and they are an invaluable source of information about how the day will pan out. More importantly, they know everybody from the Returning Officer to all the go to people in the political parties. Well worth the while of naïve virgin reporter to befriend this dominant species. And equally well worth staying on their right side, regardless of the tantrums they are prone to.

Anyway, this naïve virgin reporter was tasked with liaising with these scary creatures, befriending them and getting the latest voting updates from them. It’s a difficult balancing act but it works something like this – you must be;

  • FRIENDLY so they give you the information but not too friendly because it’s a sign of weakness.
  • FIRM so you’re not told “I’ll tell ya in a feckin minute!” but not too firm…nobody likes rudeness…not even this hardened species.
  • Stay CLOSE so you don’t miss the vital information – base camp need regular updates – but not too close…these are manly rural Louth men!
  • ASK but not too much…nobody likes an overly needy pest!

Once you stick by these basic principles you won’t go too far wrong. And the information they provide is quite accurate as is their general knowledge of such matters, which, they are more than happy to share if asked properly. When the official count was announced they were indeed 95% accurate. Most of my morning consisted of towing and froing between the tallymen and our media desk until all 179 boxes were accounted for.

The first official count was due to be announced at 5pm but it was delayed and delayed again. Initially it was delayed by the checking, double-checking and disputing of over 700 spoiled votes. Spoiled mainly by ignorance, where voters placed an X instead of a number. Several voters also used the opportunity to abuse candidates and send messages about our democracy.

Spoiled Vote Check
Spoiled Vote Check – Peter Kearney

When this matter was cleared up we were all set to go, or so we thought. But there was to be yet another delay. Word had it that a batch of votes had been misplaced. Not to panic, as Mairéad Ahearn, the Louth County Returning Officer, is a model of calm and organisation. At this stage I was getting pretty hungry although I daren’t leave for fear an announcement would be made. Besides, going hungry was a better option than eating what was being passed off as food.

Counted Votes
Counted Votes – Peter Kearney

The delay scuttled any chance we had of finishing early and we would be back again the next day. However, it was clear who the top four would be. The only doubt was who would win the dog-fight for fifth and by how many would Adams top the poll. Or would he?

Candidate List Louth
Candidate List Louth – Peter Kearney

Day one was over, four counts were complete, six candidates eliminated (Greene, Conor, Bradley, Moran, O’Dowd, M. & Yore) and nobody elected.

We would resume at 10am the following morning.

End of Day
End of Day – Peter Kearney

Sunday 28 February 2016

A 10am start means different things to different people so the count did not begin in earnest until close to 10:30. Ready for count 5. Quite soon Coffey is eliminated and her votes are transferred to the remaining candidates, as is the norm. Dearey and Callan would follow soon after as would Weldon following a surprisingly high vote of 6,200+.

We were down to the final six, with five seats to play for, and certainly at the business end of things. This day appears to be going quicker than yesterday. Maybe because most of the ground-work has been done and the general outcome appears to be clear. You don’t get the impression there will be a lengthy recount or dispute. At least this is the word from the experts. Or maybe its because we started two hours later.

Breathnach and Adams are first elected with Adams surprisingly finishing second. While the Breathnach team reveled in this, the national media ignored it. Adams was all they wanted to know about. Much to the annoyance of several locals of different political creeds.

Gerry Adams arrives
Gerry Adams arrives – Peter Kearney

Surprising too that some old Blueshirts buried their hatred of Fianna Fáil and replaced it with and even greater hatred of Sinn Féin. Hate is hate I guess.

Breathnach’s first place position would be short lived, as Munster of Sinn Féin would leap frog them both and finish top with over 13,000 votes and become the first female TD ever elected in Louth.

Imelda Munster (right) & daughter
Imelda Munster (right) & daughter – Peter Kearney

It was now down to the last three but O’ Dowd, F. was assured of a seat. The dog-fight for the fifth was between Fitzpatrick (Fitzer) of Fine Gael and Minister Nash of Labour. After a tense battle and 11 counts it was to be Fitzer’s day and Ged Nash would not be reelected. His team were understandably dejected as his 10 year period of representing the people of Louth, including a stint as ‘Super Junior Minister’ was now at an end. You couldn’t but feel for him, his team and his family.

Fergus O' Dowd arrives
Fergus O’ Dowd arrives – Peter Kearney

However, on the lighter side, we could all now go home and the paraphernalia could come down. For the time being at least, as the final numbers don’t add up to any clear Government choice. So will we have to do it all again real soon? Despite the long hungry days and the heartache you could certainly count on my return.

 

About Peter Kearney 10 Articles
Freelance Journalist

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