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Local elections 2024 – Kildare: Seats in the balance as handful of votes to shape outcome

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Candidates and count staff are in for another long day in Punchestown where the process of filling the final seats on Kildare County Council continues.

A second recount of votes in the Newbridge local electoral area got underway at 10am this morning with three of the six seats still up for grabs.

Five candidates remain in contention and it is the tiny margin between the lowest polling two that gave rise to the recounts.

Just one vote separated Melissa Byrne of Aontú and James Stokes of Sinn Fein yesterday afternoon.

By evening, their positions had switched with Mr Stokes two votes ahead of Ms Byrne.

What happens when their final position is known will be equally intriguing.

Whoever hangs on after the next elimination will be only around 60 votes below Tom McDonnell, an Independent who has been a leading figure in anti-migrant protests in Kildare and nationally.

Whether he would benefit more from transfers from an eliminated candidate from Aontú or Sinn Féin is unclear.

An interesting trend has emerged over the ten counts it took to get to this point, however.

Ms Byrne has been picking up transfers from all parties in near equal proportions which means that if she holds on, she may benefit from Mr Stokes’ transfers sufficiently to enable her overtake Mr O’Donnell and take last seat.

If Ms Byrne is eliminated, it is not clear where her transfers are likely to go or if they could- close the gap between Mr Stokes and Mr O’Donnell.

As things stand, Fianna Fail’s Noel Heavey and Rob Power look safe for the fourth and fifth seat but there are no certainties.

The recount, followed by progress to Count 11, is expected to take at least until late afternoon.

9pm

A fresh recount is to begin in Kildare tomorrow morning after a first recount saw the bottom two candidates in the Newbridge LEA switch places by just two votes.

Melissa Byrne of Aontú went into this afternoon’s recount, one vote ahead of Sinn Fein’s James Stokes but after almost five hours of counting, she emerged two votes behind him.

After consulting with both candidates, returning officer Eoghan Ryan suspended proceedings for the evening just before 9pm, asking staff to return at 10am tomorrow.

“It’s certainly a birthday to remember,” said Melissa Byrne, who turned 25 counting ballots instead of candles in the Punchestown count centre.

She and Mr Stokes, who is just 18, are the youngest candidates of the 90 to contest the 40 seats in the eight local electoral areas in Kildare.

Neither seem fazed by testing the democratic process to the full and while there was plenty to divide the field and their supporters throughout the election campaign, there was unity of admiration for them.

“I’m delighted to see it,” said one veteran Fianna Fail supporter. “Politics needs more young people – whatever their party.”

5.30pm

The recount is continuing in Kildare where one vote separates the bottom two candidates after the 10th count in Newbridge LEA.

Three of the six seats were filled in earlier counts by Peggy O’Dwyer and Tracey O’Dwyer, both Fine Gael, and Chris Pender of the Social Democrats.

Going into the tenth count, five of the original 14 candidates remained in the running with Noel Heavey and Rob Power, both sitting Fianna Fail councillors, in first and second place.

They were followed by Independent Tom McDonnell, Aontú’s Melissa Byrne and Sinn Fein’s James Stokes.

After distribution of transfers, the line-up remained the same but the gap between Byrne and Stokes narrowed. Byrne now has 1,101 votes and Stokes, 1,100.

Whoever is eliminated after the recount will leave another tight situation behind.

While Heavy and Power look relatively safe, Tom McDonnell is just 60 votes ahead of Byrne and 61 ahead of Stokes so a distribution of transfers will determine who takes the final seat.

Newbridge is the only one of the eight local electoral areas in Kildare where counting is incomplete.

12.30pm

Minister of State Martin Heydon has credited a mix of the ‘Harris bounce’ and quality local candidates for Fine Gael’s strong performance in his home county of Kildare.

The Kilcullen man who has spent much of the weekend at the count centre has been closely watching the recount in the Kildare electoral area where Fine Gael’s Paddy Curran is hoping a fresh look at the figures might save his seat.

As it stands, the party have 11 seats – the same number as in the outgoing council – but it is hoping for more.

“Ultimately it’s down to the candidates we put forward,” Mr Heydon said of his party’s good results so far.

“The sitting councillors have really done their work in their areas and the new candidates are people who are really well-placed in their communities.

“And a large part of people’s motivation is about a local vote on local issues.

“But there is no doubt that Fine Gael gained momentum during the three weeks of the campaign.

“I think it’s the first time since 2011 where we gained support throughout a campaign as opposed to, as a government party, losing it, so Simon Harris and Government’s key decisions and what Fine Gael is doing in government has resonated well with the public and that was quite evident on the doorstep.”

The Minister has been double-jobbing – also monitoring events in Castlebar where Nina Carbery, for whom he is director of elections, is in the running for a seat in the European elections for the Midlands North West.

“We’re hoping for a first count at around 5-6pm,” he said

“We’re dealing with partial tallies but we know Nina did really well here in Kildare, we know she did really well in Meath and in Louth which was our target for number ones.

“We also know she is really transfer-friendly. Maria Walsh is doing very strongly and we are right in play for two seats.

“Nina is probably fighting for the second seat for Fine Gale and that would be a really big win for us we are very hopeful.”

As it stands heading into lunchtime on Monday, 32 seats on Kildare County Council have been confirmed, five are provisional pending the outcome of the recount and three have yet to be filled.

10pm – Sunday

A full recount of votes in the five-seater Kildare electoral area is to begin on Monday morning after just 15 votes separated the candidates vying for the last seat.

Sitting councillor, Paddy Curran (FG), requested the recount after being beaten to the final spot by Social Democrats newcomer, Pat Balfe, in the ninth count.

Mr Curran had polled ahead of Mr Balfe all the way to the final count when transfers from eliminated Independent Declan Crowe pushed Mr Balfe narrowly ahead.

A recount will make no difference to the early winners, Suzanne Doyle (FF) and Kevin Duffy (FG) who were elected on the first count, and is unlikely to pose a difficulty for the third past the post, Fianna Fail’s Brian O’Loughlin who got in on the eighth count.

Both Mr Balfe and Sinn Fein newcomer Shónagh Ní Raghallaigh got in on the ninth.

If the results stand after the recount, it will mean a seventh seat for the Social Democrats who have been celebrating increasing their seats from four.

It will also mean relief for Sinn Fein who lost sitting councillor Noel Connolly from their only seat on the council.

Fine Gael still lead the league table for the highest number of seats with 11 so far while Fianna Fail has nine, the Social Democrats provisionally have seven, Labour have five, Independent Ireland has one and there are two non-party Independents.

5pm

The Green Party has had had a “wake-up” call after a bruising local election in Kildare where it lost both its seats.

Green Party Senator Vincent P. Martin, a former poll-topper in Naas and sister of deputy party leader and Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin, said the party needed to examine how it communicated it messages.

He said the party’s collapse in the partly rural county contrasted with neighbouring Dublin where it performed reasonably well.

“Communications could be better. There’s no-one loves rural Ireland more than the Greens and maybe that message didn’t get across,” he said.

He said the party also needed to push its social justice agenda better.

“People get it that we’re for the environment but maybe we have a job of work to do to remind people of the value of social justice which underpins our party.

“This is a wake-up call. We have to redouble our efforts.”

Sitting candidates Peter Hamilton in Maynooth and Bob Quinn in Naas were both knocked out, Mr Hamilton in the first count.

Patrica Foley in Clane and Peter Paul Hughes in Celbridge were also first to be eliminated in their electoral areas.

Lorraine Benson in Kildare, Imran Ali in Leixlip and Ronan Maher in Newbridge were still awaiting their fate late on Sunday afternoon.

Mr Martin said the party had polled at 5-6pc and would take some “crumbs of comfort” from that.

“They were one or two per cent short of making it. The challenge is to bring back that 1-2pc increase in the vote. It’s very marginal and falling 1pc can have a cruel outcome.

“We have to take inspiration from the wins elsewhere and examine how to share the wisdom from the successes in Dublin.”

The other part emerging from the count with much reflection to do was Sinn Fein which was in no certainty about retaining its sole seat in the late afternoon.

Meanwhile Fine Gael continued to lap up victories with eight seats secured, ahead of Fianna Fail’s five, the Social Democrats’ four and Labour’s four. Two Independents have so far secured seats.

1pm

Counting in the Kildare local elections could run into Monday as the battle for seats heats up.

Just three of the eight electoral areas have returned a final result, only three of the seven seats in Naas are filled and four areas have not yet had a first count.

Seasoned observers say the pace indicates either a very long night on Sunday to complete the count or an adjournment to Monday morning.

One caveat is that, so far, there have been clear margins between candidates, no disputes and no wrangling over doubtful votes.

If that pattern continues, the Punchestown count centre may fully return to hosting races of an equine kind by tomorrow.

The latest picture at lunchtime shows 17 of the 40 seats filled with Fine Gael taking six, followed by Fianna Fail and the Social Democrats with four each.

If that pattern continues, Fine Gael would take over from Fianna Fail as the biggest party on the council.

The party was one seat behind its main rival in the outgoing council.

Labour has two seats and there is one Independent. All sitting councillors who entered the race have been returned apart from Peter Hamilton of the Green Party.

8.30am

Counting in the local elections in Kildare resumes this morning after a flurry of late night results brought the total of councillors elected to 15.

Two of the eight electoral areas, Clane and Maynooth, have now filled their five seats each while Celbridge has just one of its four left to decide.

Seven-seater Naas had two of its councillors elected when counting was suspended for the night at 1am.

Counting in those two areas is due to start again at 9.30am at Punchestown and will get underway in the remaining areas – Athy, Newbridge, Leixlip and Kildare – from about 10am.

Seats secured so far break down in the following party lines: Fine Gael 5, Fianna Fail 4, Social Democrats 4, Labour 1 and Independents 1.

Councillors elected so far are as follows: Maynooth – Naoise Ó Cearúil (FF), Tim Durkan (FG), Peter Melrose (Soc Dem), Angela Feeney (Lab), Paul Ward (FF).

Clane – Brendan Wyse (FG), Pádraig McEvoy (Ind), Aidan Farrelly (Soc Dem), William Durkan (FG), Daragh Fitzpatrick (FF).

Celbridge – David Trost (FF), Claire O’Rourke (Soc Dem), Lumi Panaite Fahey (FG).

Naas – Bill Clear (Soc Dem), Fintan Brett (FG).

11pm

Six local election seats have now been in Kildare with two for Fianna Fáil, two for Fine Gael and two for the Social Democrats.

It has been a particularly good night for the Social Democrats with two candidates securing seats on first counts.

Bill Clear topped the poll in Naas to reclaim his seat while in Celbridge, first-time candidate Claire O’Rourke was one of two councillors to be elected on the first count.

Ms O’Rourke came second in Celbridge to Fianna Fail’s David Trost, bringing two new members to the council who could be described as veteran newcomers.

Ms O’Rourke recently retired from a career in the mental health services in the HSE and in private practice so politics is a new venture but she has been involved in community action for many years.

David Trost is well known for canvassing on behalf of Fianna Fail over the years but finally became the face on the poster in a move that paid off for him and the party.

Polling well above quota, he had plenty of votes to spare but without a running mate, his transfers went most generously to Fine Gael first-timer Lumi Panaite Fahey.

That brought her to within one vote of the quota at time of writing.

Earlier, Brendan Wyse and Tim Durkan, both Fine Gael took the second and third seats on the council while Naoise Ó Cearúil was the first home for Fianna Fáil.

So far it has been a night to forget for Sinn Fein and the Green Party although there is still a long way to go with none of the four commenced electoral areas complete and four more to start on Sunday.

No full count is complete for any electoral area in Kildare but already the post mortem has begun for Sinn Fein in the county.

The party ran 14 candidates across the eight areas, hoping for a dramatic increase on the solitary seat it took into the election.

Arriving at the Punchestown count centre, Sinn Fein TD for Kildare North Réada Cronin conceded there would be no such rise in fortunes.

“All the candidates are very disappointed and I’m very disappointed for them,” she said as the vote across the county stayed low.

“We listened to the people last time when they told us we didn’t run enough candidates,” she said of the decision to double up in most of the electoral areas which split a poor vote even further.

She insisted she was pleased with the performance of a number of candidates, however, saying they had made progress and were on a sound footing for possible future outings.

“They hit the bar but did not get the goal in the back of the net,” she said.

“But we ran a good positive campaign and I’m very proud of them.

“On Monday we roll up the sleeves and get back to work.”

7.30pm

Kildare has its first two councillors with the election of Fianna Fáil’s Naoise Ó Cearúil and Fine Gael’s Brendan Wyse.

Mr Ó Cearúil very comfortably exceeded the quota on the first count in the Maynooth electoral area and returns to the seat he first won in 2014.

Mr Wyse had also had a large surplus, topping the poll in the Kildare electoral area.

Their elections came minutes apart as the pace begins to quicken at the count centre in Punchestown.

Distribution of their transfers is now under way.

4.30pm

Kildare county council looks to get some fresh faces with newcomers set to take seats in the four-seater Celbridge electoral area.

Three of the seats were left wide open after just one sitting councillor, Rupert Heather (Lab), returned to the fray.

The opportunity to fill the gap was quickly seized by the Social Democrats, whose new candidate, Claire O’Rourke, is looking strong to take a seat.

Fine Gael seem to have had a stroke of luck in finding Lumi Panaite Fahey to wear the party colours and enter the race.

She too is performing very well.

David Trost (FF) looks certain to take the seat vacated by his party colleague Michael Coleman and may top the poll.

That would leave Labour’s Heather and David Monaghan (SF) the others most likely to be in with a shout.

Counting has officially begun in four of the eight electoral areas – Maynooth, Clane, Celbridge and Naas, with the other four scheduled to begin on Sunday morning.

1.30pm

There is little sign of a Sinn Fein bounce or a swing to independents in Kildare where sitting candidates for the main parties are performing strongly.

Tallying is still underway at lunchtime but with two of the eight electoral areas complete, it looks like there will be few upsets.

In Maynooth, four of the five seats look likely to be held by siitting candidates, Naoise Ó Cearúil (FF), Tim Durkan (FG) and Angela Feeney (Lab) while Paul Ward (FF) is also looking safe.

It is possible that newcomer Peter Melrose (Soc Dem) could be vying sitting Green, Peter Hamilton, for the fifth.

A similar pattern is showing in Clane, also a five-seater, where sitting candidates Brendan Wyse (FG), Pádraig McEvoy (Ind) and Aidan Farrelly (Soc Dem) hold the top three spots for first preferences and Daragh Fitzpatrick (FF) is in fifth.

The decision of Brendan Weld (FG) not to run again leaves that seat open but at the moment FG newcomer William Durkan is polling fourth on first preferences.

With 90 candidates for 40 seats and tallying continuing, there is a long way to go but Social Democrats co-founder and Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy was boldly predicting the party could gain on the four seats sit currently holds.

She said predictions of an influx of independents on councils or a shift to Sinn Fein may have been exaggerated.

“We didn’t see that trend on the doorstep,” she said.

“Certainly people had issues and complaints but they wanted to engage with us on them. They weren’t looking to vote in a completely different direction.”

Tallying continues at the Curragh Racecourse but completed boxes will move to Punchestown where the count proper is due to begin this afternoon.

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