Ireland South will be without any representation in Europe for almost two months as a marathon €1m recount gets under way.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has suggested the State may need to introduce “electronic counting” of votes in light of the Ireland South election stand-off.
A full recount has been called in the 12-county constituency as Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada and the Green Party’s Grace O’Sullivan fight to stay in the race.
A conservative figure of €1m has been put on the cost of the recount which will begin on Tuesday and is predicted to take 28 working days.
The State will now have to foot the extra bill which will include:
- 24-hour armed garda cover to protect the ballots;
- Meals for staff, as well as the salaries of counters, who earn around €30 an hour;
- The rent of the room in Cork’s Nemo Rangers GAA club;
- The hire of tables and chairs and a plastic floor to go over the astroturf surface.
After a recheck of the votes of outgoing MEP Ms Ní Riada and Ms O’Sullivan changed the outcome by just one vote, Sinn Féin pressed ahead with a recount. Just 326 votes now separate the candidates.
The recount means the vast constituency will be left without any representation in Europe while the votes are re-examined.
While Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly and Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher received enough votes to be deemed elected, they cannot be declared MEPs until all five seats are filled.
Mr Kelly said: “The one difficulty it brings now is uncertainty about whether or not Ireland South will be represented in Brussels during the crucial weeks when the president and vice presidents are elected and key committee positions are distributed.
“There could also be uncertainty about whether or not parliament can finalise these positions before all seats have been filled.”
The Taoiseach said it was “bizarre” that counting has not been completed and suggested we could look at electronic counting and “maybe think about borrowing machines used in Scotland”.
“While I would never think about electronic voting, maybe we should think about electronic counting,” said Mr Varadkar.
Speaking after the recount announcement was made, returning officer Martin Harvey said security arrangements would be put in place to secure ballot papers.
“We will have the gardaí looking after the hall until next Tuesday morning at 9am when we reconvene here and we start counting afresh,” he said.
“Unfortunately it will take time, what we are proposing is to count from Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm or 6pm, we won’t count at weekends, if we did we wouldn’t be able to get the staff to do that, so that’s where we are.”
Asked about the potential cost of the process, Mr Harvey said he had not fully worked this out. However, he said reports of over a €1m “might be the area” they would be talking about.
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that Ireland’s two “second-tier” MEPs will have no salary, status, or function in the EU Parliament until after Brexit.
The EU Parliament office in Dublin told the Irish Examiner that Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews and whoever fills the final seat in Ireland South will be left out in the cold until after the UK formally leaves the union.
“Until that point, there is no legal basis for the European Parliament to attribute any particular status to these two individuals,” the office said.
While they would be entitled to attend the parliament, it would only be as citizens.
The first sitting of the new Parliament will take place in Strasbourg from July 2-4.
New MEPs will get salaries and expenses from July 2.