Belfast Telegraph

Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly comfortably tops Ireland South first count poll

Mr Kelly topped the poll with 118,444 first preference votes.

Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly comfortably topped the first count (Michelle Devane/PA)
Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly comfortably topped the first count (Michelle Devane/PA)

Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly has comfortably topped the poll in the Ireland South European election constituency and is on target to retain his seat.

The first count results of the five-seat constituency were declared on Monday evening, almost 35 hours after counting first began at the Nemo Rangers GAA Club in Co Cork.

None of the 23 candidates on the two-foot long ballot paper reached the quota.

The sheer size and volume of the ballot papers have delayed progress at the count centre – more than 200 staff are grappling with 750,000 ballot papers, weighing 7.5 tonnes.

It was about 7.30pm on the second day before the first count results were announced and counting did not adjourn until after 11pm.

Indications are it may take until Thursday before the five seats are allocated.

MEP Mr Kelly topped the poll with 118,444 first preference votes, but he failed to reach the quota of 119,866.

The former GAA president was followed by Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher on 84,083 and Independents 4 Change candidate Mick Wallace on 81,741.

Sinn Fein’s Liadh Ni Riada came in fourth with 79,072 first preferences, followed by the Greens’ Grace O’Sullivan on 75,946, Fianna Fail’s Malcolm Byrne on 69,166, Fine Gael’s outgoing MEP Deirdre Clune on 64,605 and Fine Gael’s Andrew Doyle on 38,738.

As Mr Kelly was only 1,422 votes shy of the quota on the first count, it is expected he will be the first MEP to be elected in the constituency once transfers are distributed in coming counts.

The extremes won't take over the parliament. Sean Kelly

Mr Kelly said: “I feel fantastic to have 118,000 votes when Fine Gael had three candidates, the only place any party had three candidates, is really very, very impressive I think and very satisfying.”

The Kerry parliamentarian said it showed that the hard work he had put in over recent years had been recognised by the voters.

He added: “Some people from the far right and maybe the extreme left who go over to Brussels and don’t do any work and don’t make a great contribution, but the vast majority do because the only way you get work done in Brussels is by compromise and working with others and that’s what I have done….and we’ll continue to do so. The extremes won’t take over the parliament.”

While it is expected that Mr Kelleher and Mr Wallace will win a seat, it is a worrying time for Ms O’Sullivan, Ms Ni Riada and Mr Byrne – who could all end up battling for the last seat.

Junior Minister Mr Doyle looks unlikely to gain a seat after the first count.

It's amazing the amount of support I've got Mick Wallace, Independents 4 Change

An RTE/TG4 exit poll predicted Mr Kelly would top the poll with 16% of first preferences, followed by Ms Ni Riada and Mr Kelleher, both of whom are on 13%, while Ms O’Sullivan is on 12% of first preference votes.

But the first count results showed the polls may have underestimated Mr Kelly’s share and Mr Wallace’s percentage and it could have exaggerated Ms O’Sullivan’s votes.

Speaking before results were declared, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he was confident that Fine Gael would take two seats in the constituency.

The Fine Gael TD said: “If the figures are precisely as in the exit poll then I would give a very good chance for Deirdre Clune to take a second seat for Fine Gael.

Wexford TD Mr Wallace told reporters on his arrival at the count centre on Monday afternoon that he was confident he would gain a seat, adding his passport was in order.

He said: “I met so many good people across the 12 counties that said they were going to vote for me – I wasn’t sure that they would. It looks like people have done just that.”

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Candidate for Independents 4 Change in Ireland South Mick Wallace

Asked whether he would spruce up if he goes to Brussels, shaggy-haired Mr Wallace said: “I thought I was spruced-up today. I’m spruced-up every day.”

Ms Clune said she did not know how the seats would be allocated, adding: “I’ve been here before and you just absolutely do not know what’s going to happen with these elections.”

Ms O’Sullivan admitted on her arrival at the count centre that she has a considerable battle on her hands to win a seat in the constituency.

“This morning I really took a little slump there when I heard that I had gone from 12% to 10% because the 12% gave me an edge, there is no doubt about that,” she said.

“The only solace for me is I am not the only one where the polls have messed up,” she said.

The Green party senator and MEP hopeful added it was “very frustrating” waiting for the count results.

Of all of the three European election constituencies, transfers will be most important in Ireland South.

PA

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