Last Cork councillor is elected by a single vote after four days of counting

Last Cork councillor is elected by a single vote after four days of counting
Holly McKeever Cairns at the count centre. 

It took two recounts and four days but Holly McKeever Cairns has secured the final seat in Bantry West Cork electoral area amid high drama on the 16th floor of Cork County Hall.

The 29-year-old pipped Independent candidate Finbarr Harrington by just one vote, flipping the outcome of Sunday night's first full count when the latter had been deemed elected by the same margin.

McKeever Cairns, a farmer and businesswoman, called for the first recount which carried across Monday and into Tuesday morning. Following extensive discussions over doubtful ballots, it emerged five invalid votes had been included in the first full count.

With those removed, it changed the landscape significantly, with the quota reduced by one in the four-seat Local Electoral Area (LEA). 

Social Democrats candidate Holly McKeever Cairns, keeping a close eye on the re-count for the Bantry, West Cork local electoral area for the local elections, in Cork County Hall.Picture: David Keane.
Social Democrats candidate Holly McKeever Cairns, keeping a close eye on the re-count for the Bantry, West Cork local electoral area for the local elections, in Cork County Hall.Picture: David Keane.

The result of the first recount put McKeever Cairns, supported by Social Democrats joint leader Roisin Shortall, one ahead, gaining two votes in the recount while Harrington's total remained the same.

Harrington, a long-time community activist, called for the second recount. 

While it proceeded swiftly, concluding before 5pm, it all came down to 22 doubtful papers. 

In an enthralling development, the tension was ratcheted up as those papers were combed through, one-by-one, like a high-stakes game of Snap, at a table around which the two candidates, their representatives, and the Returning Officer Maurice Manning and his team explained the reasoning behind the decision made on each one. 

This gripping spectacle was played out as supporters of both candidates watched on, hanging on every word.

Shortly before 9pm tonight, the announcement came, but Harrington had already conceded defeat in magnanimous fashion, calling McKeever Cairns a "wonderful person", someone who he said had similar beliefs to his own.

"Tonight it's all about Holly," he said.

Finbarr Harrington (IND) and Holly McKeever Cairns (Social Democrats) were separated by one vote.
Finbarr Harrington (IND) and Holly McKeever Cairns (Social Democrats) were separated by one vote.

Deputy Shortall said of the count process: "It was by far the tightest battle that I have ever witnessed. There was one vote in it. It just shows how well the system works."

She said the win was significant for the party, which has trebled its number of councillors nationally, adding: "People like Holly are the future of Irish politics."

The winning candidate paid tribute to Mr Harrington and his family, outlining how she has "many aspirations" for her time on Cork County Council, including making West Cork a place where people stay and return to. 

"I never expected this turn of events," she said of the count. 

As for the roundtable discussion on the doubtful ballots in the second recount, Holly said: "I always felt calm. I'm not sure if later on tonight or next week I will realise what happened."

Sunday's first full count had given her the third highest number of first preferences in a crowded field, only for victory to appear whipped away at the last. Yet 48 hours later, it was her hour, and her seat.

Following the mammoth count process, she summed it up: "It shows the importance of getting out to vote. Literally, every single vote counts."




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