At lunchtime, the Lord Chief Justice delivered his judgment on Rodney Connor’s petition and declared that Michelle Gildernew was duly elected as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency. He found that “there were some issues with how the counts were conducted” and three extra votes remain unaccounted for.
However, the Newsletter report Sir Declan Morgan’s view that
Even if those votes were introduced in breach of the rules and if they had all been counted in favour of the first respondent their exclusion would still have given the first respondent [Ms Gildernew] a majority of one vote and the result would not have been affected.
We therefore determine that Michelle Gildernew was duly elected as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone and shall certify our determination to the Speaker of the House of Commons accordingly.
UTV add the reaction from Michelle Gildernew outside the Belfast courts who described the judgment as a “victory for democracy”.
I am very pleased and delighted at the result this morning. I’m glad it’s over, I have to say. And while I’ve been carrying on my work as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone it’s good to have this out of the way.
It is high time that political Unionism accepted the democratic will of the people. I am sorry that due to the intransigence of Unionism in the constituency and beyond, it had to come to this case being brought before the court. It is now time to move on, it is time that they accepted the political realities of 2010 – they no longer operate within an Orange State, it is gone.
It will be interesting to see if The Electoral Office for Northern Ireland (EONI) will issue a statement addressing the irregularities.
In the end it came down to one vote. If that doesn’t boost voter turnout at the next elections, what will?
Update – Pete has turned up what I couldn’t find earlier – the link to the judgment. EONI’s facilitation of doubtful vote checking at the FST count was called into question.
Rule 44(4): The returning officer shall give the counting agents all such reasonable facilities for overseeing the proceedings, and all such information with respect to them, as he can give them consistently with the orderly conduct of the proceedings and the discharge of his duties in connection with them.
Having been on the floor at the Lagan Valley count centre, the processes described in the judgment feel very familiar, and while I was unaware of the change to a continuous checking of the doubtful votes, I do remember the candidates/agents being specifically called over to the well labelled Doubtful Vote table in the far corner of the leisure centre hall.
There were a number of irregularities and probable slip-ups identified in polling stations. Probably the case in polling stations across other constituencies – though with no forensic investigation they won’t be discovered. The polling station staff and presiding officer training is bound to be even more rigorous in the run up to the complex triple ballot in May 2011.