THE real drama of the weekend’s election count in Clare came after 5pm on Sunday, when the final seat in the Shannon Electoral Area was being decided.
In the end, Gerry Flynn was elected to the council for a fourth term but he will never be pressed harder.
Both he and Garret McPhillips were exactly level after a recount of votes. In such circumstances, what happens is that the candidate with the greater number of first preferences goes through and the 1,041 Flynn number ones was greater than McPhillips’ 939.
While reporting on local politics can be dreary, that certainly wasn’t the case on Sunday evening.
Shannon was the last electoral area to be counted and Cathal Crowe was way ahead of everyone else, with a massive 2,575 first preferences, far in excess of the 1,406 quota.
The second count saw Fine Gael’s John Crowe home, his 1,308 first preferences topped up by another 121 from his namesake’s surplus.
Count three saw Clonlara’s Michael Begley re-elected, as he reached 1,423; 17 in excess of the quota.
After the fourth count, Independent PJ Ryan was almost re-elected and, in the fifth, he reached the holy grail but behind him the field was tightening.
Garret McPhillips was on 994 votes and his fellow Fine Gael first-time candidate Eugene Long was on 991. In electoral terms this was hair’s breadth stuff and speculation around the ballroom of Treacy’s West County Hotel was that Long would seek a recount, something that would not have been unreasonable in the circumstances.
Ahead of them were three candidates also closely bunched together, with Gerry Flynn on 1,134, Mike McKee on 1,149 and Newmarket’s Pat McMahon on 1,162.
Long opted not to seek a recount and there was tension in the air as it was clear that many of his votes were going to go back to McPhillips, meaning there would be a dog fight for the closing seats.
The counting of his votes began and the tension levels were still rising. Could the upstart McPhillips unseat one of the three established representatives? The upset was now on.
Some time later, Clare County Council chief executive Pat Dowling approached the podium and a hush fell over the room. The words he spoke gave comfort to the old order, as the numbers were Pat McMahon 1,232, Mike McKee 1,217, Gerry Flynn 1,200 and Garret McPhillips on 1,196.
While it seemed Flynn had scraped through, there was no surprise when the announcement arrived shortly afterwards that McPhillips had sought a recount, which might overturn the wafer-thin margin.
Four candidates, three of them set to be elected, were within a mere 36 votes of each other, showing what an incredibly close race it had been. While the count had already been an exciting one by usual standards, the most dramatic twists and turns hadn’t happened yet.
As the counting staff went back to work, Mr McPhillips told The Clare Champion that while he regretted having to extend what had been a very trying weekend for them, it was possible there could be a change.
“There was just four votes in it, so there is always a chance, although it is a slim chance. I was hearing stories of Clare Colleran Molloy being in a similiar position five years ago but she brought it back and got elected.”
When Pat Dowling next took to the stage, it precipitated the most dramatic scenes of the weekend.
He revealed that discrepancies had indeed been identified and that an “equality of votes” had been recorded. He said, in these circumstances, the candidate with the greater number of first preferences would go through, and that was Councillor Flynn.
He also said the situation had been discussed with the two candidates and they had accepted it but Fine Gael supporters, including Deputy Joe Carey, met his words with shouts of ‘No’. “We wanted a full recount not a recheck,” one added, with a roar that could easily be heard at the far side of the sizeable count centre.
It emerged that what had taken place was what is known as a recheck, which is less extensive than a recount.
With the Fine Gael camp unhappy, a cloud could have lingered over the result, but following a request from Mr McPhillips, Mr Dowling announced that there would now be a recount, a process that would commence in 30 minutes.
It was a devastating blow for Councillor Flynn, who had now twice been announced as the winner, before being dragged back into the tightest race imaginable.
The two candidates had actually shaken hands on the result but Mr McPhillips said that he had been under the mistaken impression that a recount had already been undertaken.
Shortly after 8.30pm, a hush descended around the count centre as the candidates and some of their associates were brought into the middle of the room where they spoke to officials.
Before 8.40pm, Mr Dowling again spoke to the assembled audience and announced the winners of the seats in order of their election – Cathal Crowe, John Crowe, Michael Begley, PJ Ryan, Pat McMahon and Mike McKee, he read, before adding the name of Gerry Flynn, to rapturous applause from the camp of the independent councillor.
It subsequently emerged that both candidates had lost one vote each in the recount but the greater number of Flynn
first preferences had seen him through. If Councillor Flynn had fallen short, after twice being announced the winner, it would have been a terrible blow but it never came to pass. For the McPhillips camp, it was a case of so near but yet so far.
Never was it truer that every vote counts – if just one more person had voted for Gareth McPhillips, or one fewer for Gerry Flynn, the result would have been reversed.