By David Raleigh at the Limerick Count Centre
While Michael D Higgins dominated the Presidential election vote in his birthplace Limerick today, his nearest rival Peter Casey achieved impressive results in the rural parts of the county with large Traveller populations.
Just over 41% of Limerick city turned out to vote, while there was a 46% turnout in Limerick county.
In a remarkable late surge, Mr Casey, who had stood a lonely figure on 2% in the opinion polls just 10 days out from the election, threatened to cause an upset in Limerick County.
In the end, when the result was declared, the former Dragon had achieved 10,865 first preference votes in the rural areas - 4,397 behind poll topper President Higgins, on 15,262.
Limerick County, first count: Valid Poll 31,741; Michael D Higgins 48.1%; Peter Casey 34.2%; Joan Freeman 5.6%; Sean Gallagher 5.5%; Liadh Ní Riada 4.5%; Gavin Duffy 2.1% #Aras18— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 27, 2018
In Limerick city, President Higgins again topped the poll on 18,904 votes, with Mr Casey finishing strong again in second place, on 7,845.
In Rathkeale, where there is a significant Traveller community, Mr Casey came out on top in a number of the opened boxes.
A box at Rathkeale Girls National School had Casey topping the poll on 44% of the vote, followed by Higgins on 40%, according to unofficial tallies.
In Knocknasna, located just outside Abbbeyfeale, further unofficial tallies had Mr Casey coming out on top again with 61 first preference votes, followed by Mr Higgins on 50.
It was the story of the day and the trend continued in Askeaton, where tallies had Casey achieving 142 first preference votes, followed by Higgins with 123.
Despite his late surge, Casey couldn’t topple Higgins, as the President’s overall score continued on a steady path across the Treaty City and County.
Limerick Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan was “delighted” with the Higgins victory.
The former Minister for Education described Mr Casey’s views on the Travelling community as “racist”, a charge he has denied.
“I think Peter Casey is being plain racist in what he said. Racism is basically tarring an entire community with one particular brush, and that’s what he has done, in my opinion,” Deputy O’Sullivan said.
She said his comments about Travellers, made during the campaign, “stirred up a certain sentiment in a section of the Irish population”.
However she acknowledged this sentiment was already in Irish society, yet, she added, “we need to take it apart to some extent and figure out why.”
“If people had a bad experience of one person, or more than one person from a particular sector of the population, that doesn’t mean that anybody is entitled to tar that entire population because of an experience in relation to some of that population.”
“We also need to have a conversation, and recognise that, people have voted in the way they have, and, we need to now not just forget about that and move on. We need to see why people are voting in this way.”
Limerick Sinn Fein TD, Maurice Quinlivan said he was “disappointed” with Liadh Ní Riada’s performance.
Ni Riada never threatened in the two-horse encounter at Limerick Racecourse.
She finished second last of the six candidates in Limerick County on 1,438 votes. In the city she finished third but way behind Casey and Higgins.
“We’re disappointed...there was the issue that she wasn’t as well known as we would have hoped she would have been,” said Deputy Quinlivan.
“She did the best campaign she could have possibly done,” he added.
Mr Quinlivan described the presidential debates on television and radio as “a circus”.
Criticising RTÉ, he said: “If you look at the RTE debates, the same questions were asked a second time, rather than teasing out other stuff and letting candidates try to expand on the platform on they wanted to run on.”
“The national broadcaster really has to look at how they (cover) the campaigns - I’m not making that as an excuse or whatever, I'm just saying, we are having a presidential campaign and it was supposed to be about the candidate’s vision for Ireland; and I don’t think that came out, and I think that (was) reflected in the (vote).”
When asked if he thought it was a mistake for Sinn Féin to run a candidate against Mr Higgins, Mr Quinlivan said: “I don’t think it was a mistake (to run Liadh Ní Riada).”
“I think this is a crucial point; it’s very important to have an election regardless of the outcome of that.
“I’ll never apologise for calling an election or for letting people express their democratic mandate or their franchise. It’s really really important.”