FINE Gael’s Seán Kelly and Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher are on course to take their seats after a marathon first count in the European elections but sitting MEPs Deirdre Clune and Liadh Ní Riada are fighting for their political lives.
As the first count was called at 7.30pm last night, poll-topper Seán Kelly finished just 1,400 votes off the quota of 119,866, with a total of 118,444 votes and was projected to take a seat after the first few eliminations.
However, transfers will mean everything, with six other candidates clustered around each other in a fight for the remaining five seats.
With 84,083 votes, Billy Kelleher was in second place followed by independent Wexford TD Mick Wallace on 81,741 votes, Liadh Ní Riada of Sinn Féin on 79,072 votes, Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan on 75,946, Fianna Fáil’s Malcom Byrne on 69,166, and Deirdre Clune of Fine Gael on 64,605.
The only one of them looking guaranteed to take a seat is Mr Kelleher. If he can keep ahead of his running mate he’ll either take a seat without the quota or surpass the quota upon Mr Byrne’s elimination.
Despite his first preference vote, Mr Kelleher was not taking anything for granted yet and was hoping the party can pull off the “longshot” chance of electing two MEPs.
“Eliminations over the next couple of hours and days will decide everything. We’re hoping we can stay in it long enough to see whether or not there is a potential for two seats.
“It’s early days. There’s a huge road to travel in terms of eliminations.
“It’s the longest ballot paper I’ve ever seen with 23 candidates, and eliminations of small numbers of votes over a prolonged period of time will make the difference.
“I have no doubt we will be here for some time yet,” he said.
Following the trend for Sinn Féin this weekend, Ms Ní Riada saw a massive drop in her vote from 2014.
In that election, her first, she was elected with a first preference vote of 125,309 votes but lost 46,000 votes since then.
However, she is starting in a strong position, where transfers could keep her in the mix.
“Obviously, you’d like to be higher up than that, but I’ll take fourth position. It depends on transfers now and it’s going to be a waiting game.
“It’s going to be a long few nights and you’re never fully confident until you see the finished result,” she said.
She said that it would be “bittersweet” for her if she is elected after Sinn Féin lost so many seats over the weekend.
“It was a very disappointing election for Sinn Féin.
“We just have to dust ourselves down and see what went wrong and try to address those issues.
“There are certainly challenges ahead, but we’ll get through this challenge first, whatever happens,” she said.
Ms Clune actually increased her vote since 2015, gaining almost 17,000 on her 2014 total of 47,453.
Though she’s trailing the pack of viable candidates, she still has a path to victory through Andrew Doyle.
With 38,733 votes, his ballots are likely to come from Fine Gael’s core voters who will transfer well within the party.
With Mr Kelly out of the way early on, that can only benefit Ms Clune.
Counting in the massive Ireland South constituency could drag on for a few more days before a full result is produced.