Peter Casey looks set to poll well, particularly in parts of West Limerick PICTURE: LIAM BURKE/PRESS22
THE counting of ballot papers in the Presidential Election is set to kick off in the next hour at the Limerick Racecourse.
Early indications are that Limerick City will follow the rest of the country in re-electing Michael D Higgins for a second term as president.
But things in rural county Limerick appear to be less clear with controversial candidate Peter Casey polling particularly well in parts of the west. Mr Casey was nominated for a tilt at the Aras by members of Limerick City and County Council.
He attracted controversy in the run-up to the election for his comments on Traveller culture.
One box in Rathkeale – a town with a significant population of Travellers – showed support for the businessman running at 44%, against President Higgins at 40%.
In nearby Askeaton, 46% appear to have backed Mr Casey. Over in Ballybrown, one tally suggested 27% had backed Mr Casey, with more than 50% voting for the incumbent.
Meanwhile, in Broadford, Mr Casey had 39% of the vote in one box, with President Higgins at 45%.
One tally from Effin showed Mr Casey and President Higgins neck-and-neck with another from Bruree showing 47% support for the current office-holder and 40.5% for the former Dragon.
In the city, the ‘bellwether’ polling station of John F Kennedy National School places President Higgins on 57%, with Mr Casey at 23.4%.
There are similar leads for President Higgins at John the Baptist School, Killalee, while one box from the Dooradoyle Library shows the Limerick native with 222 votes, as against Mr Casey’s 66.
One of the Castleconnell boxes shows President Higgins with 190 votes, and Mr Casey on 58 votes.
The other candidates in the city are barely registering on the count, with the exception of Pieta House founder Joan Freeman, who is tallying at around 4% in some parts of the city and Liadh Ni Riada, who is at 6%.
On average, Mr Casey appears to be polling at 23% with President Higgins at 36.9%.
All these figures must come with a health warning, however, as only small portions of the electorate are taken into account here.
The count in Limerick City is expected to be complete by 3pm – but a formal result cannot be made public until the local returning officer here receives clearance from the national returning officer in Dublin.
Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan has welcomed the early indications, saying: “I’m delighted. I think people voted for Michael D on the basis of the work he has done for the last seven years. It’s a very solid vote based on knowledge of the candidate. I think the Irish people can be very confident they are going to get the same again for the next seven years – maybe better.”
Ms O’Sullivan also expressed concern at the high vote Mr Casey – who is set to become runner-up – received.
“He got attention as he was extreme, he expressed racist views which we need to call out for what they were. I think that’s something we need to examine in Irish society to see why did such a high percentage people vote for him,” she said.
Speaking at the Limerick Count Centre, Sinn Fein TD Maurice Quinlivan said the party was “disappointed” with Liadh Ni Riada’s performance, but he said it was not a mistake for Sinn Fein run her as a candidate.
He said the media was partially to blame for her poor performance.
He singled out RTE for how it framed the debates on its platforms.
He also disagreed the performance of Ms Ni Riada showed that the country had little or no appetite for the idea of a united Ireland, which was once of her main points of her campaign.
“We’re disappointed with the votes she got, but she did the best campaign she could have possibly done. We need to look at how the debates are conducted, because the debates are crucial.”
Meanwhile, it looks like a majority of 71% of people have voted to back the removal of blasphemy from the Constitution.
Across Limerick, turnout was on average between 40% and 50%.
Stay with the Limerick Leader for news throughout the day, and follow me on Twitter for updates at @nick468official.