Just when we thought it was going to be all plain sailing once again in Galway East the tides turned, a recount was ordered, votes vanished and disprepancies were found, but we got there in the end filling all four seats and closing the doors of the community centre in New Inn before midnight on Sunday.
As expected the first three seats were filled by Fianna Fail’s Michael Kitt, Fine Gael’s Paul Connaughton and Ciaran Cannon, but it was over the last seat that the real dog fight was held with Labour’s Colm Keaveney eventually being elected. Fine Gael’s Tom McHugh had been seeking an unprecedented third seat for the party in this constituency; he requested a recount after only two votes separated him and Independant Tim Broderick. However, it was not meant to be as Keaveney pulled in significant transfers.
There were a lot of weary faces exiting the count centre on Sunday night having watched, participated in, and even cursed the drama that unfolded at the count. It was a far cry from the eagerness that was seen just after 9am on Saturday when spectators milled into the hall to watch the counting staff furiously sorting through the ballot papers from a total of 157 boxes.
Just before midday, the tallies were announced showing FG Paul Connaughton on 7,218, FG Ciaran Cannon on 6,818, FF Michael Kitt on 6,527, FG Tom McHugh on 5,592, Ind Sean Canney on 5,523, FG Jimmy McClearn on 5,124, Ind Tim Broderick on 4,976, Labour Colm Keaveney on 4,202, FF Michael Dolan on 4,101, Labour Lorraine Higgins on 3,492, SF Dermot Connolly on 3,484, Ind Emer O’Donnell on 577, and Green Ciaran Kennedy on 417. The tallies showed that party percentages were: FF 18.3, FG 42.6, Lab 13.3, Ind 19.1, and others, including SF, 6.71.
Then the staff got down to the real business of the main count and it was not until around 5pm that the first count results were announced. There was much anticipation as returning officer Derry Buckley approached the podium with the results which gave Connaughton the lead on 7,264, followed closely by running mate Cannon who pulled in 6,924 votes, then Kitt on 6,604, and McHugh on 5,833. Kennedy and O’Donnell who had the lowest votes were then eliminated. The same four candidates remained at the top of the leader board in the second count, with Connolly eliminated, but Broderick soon seemed in with a chance by the third count with 6,287, overtaking McHugh by 334 votes. The surprise in the third count results was Higgins who pulled in a lot of transfers. Following the elimination of Dolan, Kitt rose to 9,548 in the fourth count after receiving 2,668 transfers, with Connaughton and Cannon also maintaining a strong presence. Broderick was next in line followed by Canney and then McHugh.
It was the fifth round that saw Keaveney going full steam ahead after securing an amazing 2,452 transfers from his running mate Higgins who had been eliminated in the previous round. It was at this stage that Keaveney really became a contender for the fourth seat with 7,244 votes, however Broderick, now on 6,855 was not far behind and McHugh was on 6,127. There was still plenty to play for and things were really starting to heat up at New Inn by the time 9pm struck.
An hour later and the results of the sixth round were announced with Kitt in the lead, followed by the FG duo Cannon and Connaughton, and then Broderick and Keaveney. Canney was eliminated and the counting staff got on with the work of distributing the transfers.
It seemed that the election count at New Inn was going smoothly until after the announcement of the seventh count results which resulted in only two votes separating Broderick (8,371 ) and McHugh (8,369 ). Just after 11pm the returning officer announced to the crowd that a recount had been requested by the McHugh camp and with no seats yet filled the count was adjourned to Sunday morning.
Recounting got under way the following morning and it was a long wait for the candidates, their supporters, and all who turned up to see the drama. A full recount was carried out in relation to the remaining candidates - Broderick, Cannon, Connaughton, Keaveney, Kitt, and McHugh. As the day drew on, there were early indications that a number of discrepancies were found. There was also a threat of another recount, however, by 3pm it was clear that this would not happen.
Following a day of counts, re-counts, threats of even more re-counts, and missing or spoiled votes the recalculated seventh round results were announced with Broderick, on 8,365, being eliminated. The eighth count saw three seats filled, by Kitt on 12,850, Connaughton on 12,610, and Cannon on 11,861. One and all, the now elected TDs were thrown up onto the shoulders of cheering supporters, however, there was still one seat left to fill.
It wasn’t long before there were ‘Olé, Olé’ chants echoing through the community hall as Keaveney secured 320 from Kitt’s surplus, allowing him to beat McHugh to the seat and become the first Labour TD in the constituency.
And just like that, they were all gone, into the night, to celebrate with their steadfast families and supporters. The hall was cleared and only the empty Styrofoam cups and election paraphernalia remained.