It took two recounts and four days but Holly McKeever Cairns has secured the final seat in Bantry West Cork LEA amid high drama on the 16th floor of Cork County Hall.
The 29-year-old pipped Independent candidate Finbarr Harrington by just one vote, flipping the outcome of Sunday night's first full count when the latter had been deemed elected by the same margin.
McKeever Cairns, a farmer and businesswoman, called for the first recount which carried across Monday and into Tuesday morning. Following extensive discussions over doubtful ballots, it emerged five invalid votes had been included in the first full count.
With those removed, it changed the landscape significantly, with the quota reduced by one in the four-seat LEA. The result of the first recount put McKeever Cairns, supported by Social Democrats joint leader Roisin Shortall, one ahead, gaining two votes in the recount while Harrington's total remained the same.
Harrington, a long-time community activist, called for the second recount. While it proceeded swiftly, concluding before 5pm, it all came down to 22 doubtful papers. In an enthralling development, the tension was ratcheted up as those papers were combed through, one-by-one, like a high-stakes game of Snap, at a table around which the two candidates, their representatives, and the Returning Officer Maurice Manning and his team explained the reasoning behind the decision made on each one. This gripping spectacle was played out as supporters of both candidates watched on, hanging on every word.
Shortly before 9pm, the announcement came, but Harrington had already conceded defeat in magnanimous fashion, calling McKeever Cairns a "wonderful person", someone who he said had similar beliefs to his own.
"Tonight it's all about Holly," he said.
Deputy Shortall said of the count process: "It was by far the tightest battle that I have ever witnessed. There was one vote in it. It just shows how well the system works."
She said the win was significant for the party, which has trebled its number of councillors nationally, adding: "People like Holly McKeever are the future of Irish politics."
The winning candidate paid tribute to Mr Harrington and his family, outlining how she has "many aspirations" for her time on Cork County Council, including making West Cork a place where people stay and return to. "I never expected this turn of events," she said of the count. As for the roundtable discussion on the doubtful ballots in the second recount, she said: "I always felt calm. I'm not sure if later on tonight or next week I will realise what happened."
Sunday's first full count had given her the third highest number of first preferences in a crowded field, only for victory to appear whipped away at the last. Yet 48 hours later, it was her hour, and her seat.
Following the mammoth count process, she summed it up: "It shows the importance of getting out to vote. Literally, every single vote counts."
The process to decide the fourth and final seat in Bantry West Cork LEA is down to the scrutinising of a handful of votes after a second recount triggered earlier today.
Just one vote separated Holly McKeever Cairns of the Social Democrats and Independent candidate Finbarr Harrington when the result of the first recount was announced this morning. It reversed the final position from Sunday’s first full count, when Harrington got the nod by one vote.
Harrington called for a second recount and while that finished before 5pm, the tension has been ratcheted up with discussions over doubtful ballots.
It has resulted in the extraordinary but low-key theatre of a four-strong panel from Cork County Council, including Returning Officer Maurice Manning, now going through the doubtful, tagged ballots, in front of the two candidates and two members of their respective teams.
Those at the table, including Social Democrat joint leader Roisin Shortall, are viewing the disputed papers one-by-one on floor 16 of County Hall in Cork, with their supporters looking on and hanging on every word they can hear.
Earlier, Mr Harrington said “there will not be another recount”, but as things stand it is hard to know exactly when there will be an announcement tonight, or whether the process may carry over into a fifth day, counting having begun on Saturday.Both candidates vying to fill the final seat in the Bantry West Cork LEA have been told that a second recount has found "a number of issues" and, as with the first recount, their potential impact must now be reviewed.
Maurice Manning told Holly McKeever Cairns of the Social Democrats and Independent candidate Finbarr Harrington: "There are a number of issues that we have identified and we need to assess the impact, if any, of those."
He said that review process will take an hour, with both candidates to be updated - likely behind closed doors - at around 5pm.
The results of the first recount in the four-seat LEA was announced this morning, with McKeever Cairns reversing the result of Sunday's result - going from losing by one vote, to winning by the same margin. It emerged that five invalid ballots had been incorrectly included in the initial count at the weekend, with the result that the quota was reduced by one. It also affected transfers.
Mr Harrington immediately requested and was granted the recount which has been continuing since noon today.
In dramatic scenes on Floor 16 in Cork County Hall, the result of the Bantry West Cork LEA was flipped on its head, with Social Democrat candidate Holly McKeever Cairns going from losing the fourth and final seat by one vote, to winning it by the same margin.
A full (second) recount has now got underway, this time requested by Independent candidate Finbarr Harrington, who has gone from being hoisted on the shoulders of his supporters on Sunday night to potentially missing out.
On Monday night Returning Officer Maurice Manning had informed both candidates in a closed-door meeting that a number of invalid ballots had been included in the first count last weekend.
This morning it was confirmed that five invalid ballots had been included, which appear to have had ramifications throughout the count. The quota was reduced by one, to 2,308, and crucially, Finbarr Harrington's first preference total fell by one, while McKeever Cairns's rose by two.
In rapid succession, the revised totals for counts two-through-eight were delivered, and it was clear that the five invalid papers, now excluded from the reckoning, were having a huge impact. On count 6 the two candidates vying for the last seat were neck-and-neck on 1,777.
On count 7, Harrington was ahead by nine votes, whereas at the equivalent stage last Sunday, we was 12 votes ahead. With Katie Murphy, the 20-year-old running for Fine Gael, now deemed elected on the seventh count, as was the case last Sunday, her surplus to be transferred had also changed, increased from 67 last Sunday to 68.
In the shake-up, it meant McKeever Cairns, a 29-year-old farmer and businessperson, received a final count haul of 1,866 - just one ahead of Harrington, a longtime community activist.
Harrington duly requested a recount, which is underway as of noon.
Both candidates embraced when the result was announced, with McKeever Cairns, unsurprisingly, saying it was premature to celebrate. Harrington referred to a "moral victory", but there's little doubt that, having missed out by a wider margin in 2014, he wants a real one - one which may have been snatched away courtesy of the five invalid ballots.
The result of the latest recount is not expected until at least 6pm today, with Social Democrats joint leader Roisin Shortall among those monitoring proceedings. This one could run and run.