Roche finally bows to the inevitable amid in-fighting spat

FIANNA FÁIL’S outgoing junior minister Dick Roche finally conceded defeat in Wicklow last night after a full day of rechecking of votes failed to save his seat.

The former European affairs minister made a controversial recount call on Sunday night in a bid to ensure his own running mate, Cllr Pat Fitzgerald, was eliminated ahead of him so that he might benefit from Mr Fitzgerald’s transfers.

But rechecking of 700 spoilt and several thousand disputed votes only widened the gap between Mr Fitzgerald and Mr Roche from three votes to 14. Loud cheers filled the count centre in Greystones — a former Roche stronghold — when the decision to proceed with his elimination and the rest of the count was announced shortly before 8pm.

Mr Roche had left the building earlier but a team of officials and lawyers from Fianna Fáil headquarters had stayed to represent him.

The recount call caused a major rift within the party with an angry Cllr Fitzgerald saying the behaviour of Mr Roche and party headquarters in unnecessarily prolonging the count was “an absolute disgrace”.

“I’m ahead of Dick Roche and I’m conceding we’re both out but headquarters are falling over themselves to try to get him across the line. They are looking for every avenue to get Dick elected. It’s unfair to the other candidates.

“There are three Fine Gael candidates going to be elected and they’re left waiting,” he said.

Mr Fitzgerald was three votes ahead of bottom-placed Mr Roche after the 13th count when Mr Roche refused to concede defeat, prompting a full day of rechecking yesterday.

Mr Fitzgerald said his views had been ignored completely by the party. “Not one of them came near me. They are treating me like a pariah here today.”

Earlier Mr Roche had insisted he still had a chance of taking the last seat in the five-seater constituency on transfers and dismissed Cllr Fitzgerald’s assertion that the recount was a waste of time.

“I think he is completely wrong in that regard,” he said.

The count was continuing last night with three Fine Gael candidates expected to be elected and the final two seats in the five-seater constituency to be fought over by Labour, Sinn Féin and an Independent.

There is some concern that Wicklow may not be out of the recount woods yet, however, as dissatisfaction with the design and layout of the ballot sheet is believed to have caused confusion among voters.

The ballot had to be double the normal size to accommodate the record 24 candidates whose names were arranged in two columns with boxes at either side for party logos and voting preferences.

As 14 candidates were Independents, the boxes were blank at both sides and many voters are understood to have written their preferences in the logo boxes.

Sinn Féin’s John Brady and Independent Stephen Donnelly who are in contention for one of the two last seats both had legal teams present at the count centre yesterday.

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