New Day, New World *pokes*

Oh God this is tense. I have to get away from this damnable count before I do harm. When we went to the shop a short while ago I was swearing at every car on the road. And I wasn’t even driving.

But it’s just getting more and more amazing. Now the rumour is that Fidelma Healy Eames is disputing the result, even though Fine Gael has instructed her to stop. I don’t think that will exactly improve her chances of staying in the Senate. So she’s fighting now for the existence of her political career.

Fighting against her own party.

Dammit, how can I let go? This is so much damn fun! The latest rumours also suggest that the Healy Eames camp managed to get a load of Connolly’s votes excluded on the technicality that they were not embossed sufficiently clearly. (Ballot papers are embossed by a polling station worker before they are given to the voter.) It is quite literally a hanging chad situation. Lawyers have been seen.

Perhaps another reason for the lawyers is disputation over the ballot paper. In Galway West (as in Wicklow, another zombie count) it was printed in two columns. A “depressing number” (to quote one source) of voters filled it out as two separate ballots, as if there were a local or a European election going on at the same time. There may be ructions now about whether you can interpret some sort of valid vote out of that, but I think if someone doesn’t understand which or quite how many elections they’re voting in, they have disqualified their vote. For Christ’s sake.

Stop press! Word is Healy Eames demanded that her party give her a place in the Senate if they want her to stop disputing the count. Can she not be arrested for that?

It’s So Tight It Hurts

How national revolution becomes local news. Hard even to find any information on the Galway West count now. Last night I had to turn on local radio, hoping that updates would break into a show featuring covers by showbands of hits by other, better showbands. And that bizarre dancing-on-the-radio céili music with a piano. You remember? Where they put extra emphasis on the end so that everyone knew when to stop. I swear I had no idea anyone broadcast stuff like that anymore. It’s a grotesque little treasure.

But all I found was that the recount was ongoing. It’s still ongoing this morning. Rumours fly. Some say there will be another recount, though how they can make a rumour of that while there is a recount actually in progress is beyond me. Some say people are taking down their posters so that they’ll still be good for another election in a few months. Some are saying that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are going to reunite and stage a coup. OK, I basically just started that one.

At the moment the only reliable source of updates is one communications student called Foxkehs on Twitter. It appears though that Healy Eames will be eliminated, and after that it’ll be between Kyne (FG) and Connolly, Kyne tipped by the tightest of margins.

If there isn’t another recount… This one really is going all the way, isn’t it?

So How About We Ditch This System?

STV CartoonIt’s all right for you lot. Through most of the country it’s all over bar the shouting. Here in Galway though – East and West – we’re recounting, recounting, recounting.

Recounting. The word falls like the rain. Grey cloudstreamers bring down votes, one, two. One, two. One. Testing. *Blink* I should have got more sleep last night. Oh wait, rumour coming through that Galway East’s last seat will go to Labour. Hooray! Here in West, we may not know who our TDs are until tomorrow. Even the seats we thought were won, Ó Cuív and Nolan, are up for grabs again.

It was Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames who called for the recount. Understandably, when she was on the point of being eliminated. With only 56 votes between her and the next nearest candidate, she desperately hopes that a recheck of the vote will show that it’s him who should be eliminated, not her.

The fact that this other candidate is also Fine Gael will tell you a lot of what you need to know about the Irish electoral system. We don’t have parties, we have truces.

Uneasy ones. As I was saying, TDs are in perpetual competition. The question is always asked, can they ever actually pay attention to their real job of legislating if they are constantly trying to claw votes away from one another?

Then the question has to be asked, is that actually their job? Officially they may be legislators, but once they’ve elected a Taoiseach all they ever really do is rubber-stamp the bills that the executive creates. Perhaps the TD’s real job is to be at the beck and call of the electorate, acting as go-between with the civil service.

But then you must ask, doesn’t that make the TD a sort of useless secular priest, interceding for the citizen with government in order to get them nothing more than they were entitled to anyway? And hasn’t TDs competing as professional insiders only helped create a culture of endemic corruption?

Then again… other political cultures with very different electoral systems are full of corruption too. Perhaps we have more than most, but in return for it don’t we receive a fantastic level of personal service? I invite your comment.

OK, what the ****’s happening with that count?

Foreign Press Guide

Foreign Correspondent CartoonThis article is as a service to the foreign media. When you report on Ireland, you enjoy making us sound colourful, eccentric, charming, unconventional and, not to put too fine a point on it, drunk.

We constantly disappoint you by electing rather sober, technocratic parties full of lawyers, teachers and small businesspeople. Sorry about that. To make up for it, here is a guide to the more mentally individualistic figures in current Irish politics, who will live up to your preconceptions and help you bring home the story you came with:

Michael Healy-Rae: You will never find a crueller living caricature of the Irish politician. Not now that his dad’s retired. This man wears wellingtons in the office, and keeps a pig in the filing cabinet, under “Pig”. He can be called upon for a lurid quote at any time, though unfortunately you won’t be able to understand it.

Michael is the child of a farming clan who have survived by producing a much-prized vegetable product, the “Healy-Rae grassroot vote”, to supply insatiable addicts in Dublin. With changing tastes however this type of vote is no longer in such demand, and it should be noted too that their latest crop came in well under quota. Sadly for Ireland’s biodiversity, the Healy-Rae may soon be extinct.

Richard Boyd Barret: A Communist. C – O – M – M – U  – N – I – S – T.  COMMUNIST!!! (Repeat as per your newspaper’s style guide.)

Communists, like contraceptives, were once illegal in Ireland. Nowadays they are unremarkable, everyday things of no particular significance. Although you can never quite forget they’re there, can you?

Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: An Irishman whose favourite drug is not actually a big dirty pint of black porter, Ming The Merciless is onto the smoke. Everywhere he goes, an exotic miasma lingers about his clothes and (yes) ponytail. From his very hall door there pours a cloud that makes people breathe deep and smile beatifically. He is even seen openly in public, carrying great brown brick-shaped lumps of the stuff.

Turf smoke. The guy is a fiend for it.

Brian Cowen (retired): OK, this one really is a bit drinky. But after presiding over the worst economic collapse in Europe since the Weimar Republic, I reckon you’d feel you could use a couple of stiffeners too.

Galway Cliffhanger News…

Recount!? Who the hell called for a recount!?! Aaaaah. Aaaaah. Aaaaah.

Sorry, my nerves are beginning to go. But assuming that a big pile of Frank Fahey Number Ones doesn’t turn up, it’s hard to see it overturning anything.

While I still think that Catherine Connolly can’t quite make it, but it’s turning out to be closer – still closer – than I expected.

Meanwhile in Galway East they’re also recounting. Hence the expression, county Galway.

Bad News For Galway West :(

Well it looks like I called it wrong in Galway West. While it is just about theoretically possible for Catherine Connolly to be elected on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh’s (SF) transfers. it is as unlikely as all hell. Almost certainly this round will see Nolan (Lab) elected, she’ll get most of his surplus, but it won’t quite be enough.

Shame. I freely admit a certain amount of wishful thinking may have been involved. Sometimes being on the left in Galway feels like being stranded on a desert island with a single palm tree.

Michael D. Higgins was a nice palm tree. I wonder how Nolan will shape up.

Ireland’s Election Explained

For the overseas audience, I should explain why our vote continues late into the night, through what appear to be endless recounts. Our system is called ‘Single Transferable Vote’, which means we only have a single vote between all of us. So we have to fight over it.

OK, I’ll be serious. We have a vote each. But rather than just give it to one candidate, we list the buggers in an order of preference. The count is actually a (fairly) simple mathematical game that transfers a vote from one to another until it settles into a comfortable position. The idea is that if you can’t have your first-preference candidate you may get your second – etc.

The system requires multiple-seat constituencies to work (you’ll see why later), the norm is three to five seats. Votes are checked for validity and counted, and the total number of valid votes is divided by the number of seats in the constituency. So say there are 50,000 valid votes cast in a 5-seat constituency, that gives 10,000. You need one more vote than that to “reach quota” and be elected.

The votes are then sorted into piles according to the first preference (or “number 1”) – which is the state of play shown here below, for the current election and the previous one:

First Prefs Graphic © Dave Fahy, Blacksquare.ie
© Dave Fahy, Blacksquare.ie

Quite a change, eh?

As you see, Fianna Fáil did not get a majority of first preference votes in a single constituency this time. If we used a simple First-Past-The-Post voting system here, they would win no seats at all. Before you say it’s a shame that we don’t then, I should point out that if we did use FPTP, Fianna Fáil would have won every previous election before today.

Every. Single. One.

Under our more scrupulous STV system, their percentage of the seats will be fairly close to their actual percentage of the vote. (About 17%, the way it looks at the moment.) The system is as fair as it’s possible to be in this respect.

If none of the candidates makes the quota on their first preference votes, the next move is the elimination (or ‘exclusion’) of the lowest-polling candidate. The votes in their pile are transferred to whoever is listed as the next preference. (Each vote is a list, remember). If after this redistribution someone reaches the quota, they’re elected. If no one does, the next-lowest candidate is eliminated, and so on.

(In practice, several of the lowest-polling candidates’ piles will often be redistributed at once.)

So what happens when a candidate is elected? Naturally, they almost always get more than the quota on the count that elects them, and the extra vote is called the “surplus”. Say the quota was ten thousand and a candidate has eleven thousand votes. They have a ten percent surplus, so ten percent of their votes are chosen randomly and distributed to the candidate listed as the next preference.

(The random part introduces a slight approximation, but it’s precise enough with large numbers.)

If the surplus doesn’t elect someone else they go back to eliminating people again. And so on until all the seats are filled. It’s somewhat baroque but hey, it’s fair – and it’s fantastically dramatic to watch.

Its disadvantage? Multi-seat constituencies mean local representatives are in competition with each other – not just at elections, but all the time. Even when they’re members of the same party. That makes politics… different. More on this some other time.

Ming The Merciless Seizes Power

Ah, thank you RTÉ for putting up the figures from the last two counts you missed in Galway West. Fortunately, nothing there has overturned my predictions. Connolly has moved into fifth place, but it is by no means over. FG still need more than they have for two seats, Connolly now wants a round 4,600. A tall order, but I think SF will have it for her.

I realise that I’m dissolving into Irish electoralese here. Will put up a glossary later. Anyway, it looks as if the Galway West count is going to shut down for the night now – still with no one elected. I think this is very poor form, and they should keep going all night for our entertainment. As I said to my girlfriend earlier, this is the only reality television.

Still, sleep also has its merits. I’ve been watching, reading and typing non-stop for hours now.

Other fun in the West – Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan (Independent) has been elected for Roscommon / South Leitrim.

Ming, because he ran as a legalise cannabis campaigner some years ago under the name Ming the Merciless – complete with shaved head and mandarin moustaches. Now he has finally gained power, and can proceed to destroy the Earth legalise weed be a frustrated backbencher. Unless of course he pulls of a sort of anti-Tony Gregory and supports a minority FG government in return for smoky liberation.

Open fire. Alllll weapons!

Yeah, I think I am getting a bit light-headed.

 

Catherine Connolly To Get Galway West

Or so I reckon…

I got the second count figures off Twitter before RTÉ, incidentally. I guess that’s pretty representative of what’s happening in the Irish news media.

Still nobody elected! (Despite what John Bowman seemed to think…) Four candidates were eliminated – three no-hope protest independents, and a man who might well have been elected this time had his party not been in government: former mayor Niall Ó Brolcháin (Gr). Their votes went more to Connolly than anyone else, but the end result is that she still lies in that uncomfortable sixth place in a five-seat constituency – though by only 93 votes.

Come on Catherine. Come on, I’ve a fiver on ya.

(Not really. I leave gambling to the banking industry.)

But to elect both Brian Walsh and Fidelma Healy Eames, Fine Gael need a further 10,566 votes (more than a whole quota, though that’s not really relevant). Catherine Connolly needs just 5,127.

There are two other FG candidates now bound to be excluded, and they have – at the moment – 8,266 between them, so they alone can’t elect both their colleagues. The other independents, Sinn Féin, and Fianna Fáil have about 14,000 votes between them – none of which can be expected to transfer heavily FG’s way.

I think Connolly is in.