Belfast Telegraph

Sean Kelly expecting to hold on to seat amid marathon count

Staff are having to wade through a two-foot long ballot paper in Ireland South.

Fine Gael MEP candidate Sean Kelly (left) and Independents 4 Change candidate Mick Wallace (Michelle Devane/PA)
Fine Gael MEP candidate Sean Kelly (left) and Independents 4 Change candidate Mick Wallace (Michelle Devane/PA)

Outgoing MEP Sean Kelly has said he expects to retain his European seat in the Ireland South constituency but he is unsure whether it will be on the first count.

A two-foot long ballot paper is slowing counting in the Ireland South European election count centre at Nemo Rangers GAA Club in Co Cork.

More than 200 election staff resumed counting at 9am on Monday for a second day.

The task of adjudicating 40,000 spoilt votes got under way at 11am.

They included more than 16,000 ballots which were blank.

Twenty three candidates were on the ballot paper in Friday’s election.

More than 750,000 ballot papers, weighing 7.5 tonnes, are being sorted at the count centre.

Consequently, first count results from the constituency are not expected until Monday evening and indications are it may take until Thursday before the five seats are allocated.

No tallies were conducted.

An RTE/TG4 exit poll predicted Mr Kelly will top the poll with 16% of first preferences, followed by Sinn Fein’s Liadh Ni Riada and Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher, both of whom are on 13%, while the Green Party’s Grace O’Sullivan is on 12% of first preference votes.

But it now appears that the polls may have underestimated Mr Kelly’s share and Independents 4 Change Mick Wallace’s percentage and it could have overestimated Ms O’Sullivan’s votes.

If Mr Kelly doesn’t succeed in reaching the quota on the first count, it is believed he will do so on the second count.

Speaking at the count centre Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he was confident that Fine Gael would take two seats in the constituency.

The Fine Gael minister 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.

“My understanding is that Sean Kelly would be on or above the quota, probably a little bit over it. Which in the circumstances is very encouraging.”

Mr Kelly said it was now looking like he would take the first seat in a constituency in which there were three Fine Gael candidates in the running.

“To head the poll in those circumstances it’s pretty satisfying allright,” he said.

He agreed with Mr Flanagan that the party could take a second seat if the transfers worked out well.

“It’s going to be tough but that’s what politics is about,” he added.

Mr Kelly congratulated fellow Fine Gael Mairead McGuiness who was elected on the first count in the Midlands North-West Constituency on Monday afternoon.

Overall he said what was important was that anyone who was elected worked hard for Ireland.

“Whoever is elected I’ll be expecting them to work for Ireland and not to be spoofing and pretending and getting highlights for saying things that are often meaningless and cannot be implemented and doing damn all afterwards so I think that’s something to watch for the next five years,” he said.

While it is expected that Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher will win a seat, it is a worrying time for the Green’s Grace O’Sullivan, Fine Gael’s outgoing MEP Deirdre Clune and Fianna Fail’s Malcolm Byrne – who will most likely battle for the last seat.

It's amazing the amount of support I've got Mick Wallace

The RTE/TG4 exit poll put Mr Wallace on 10% first-preference votes, Ms Clune and Mr Byrne both on 9% and Fine Gael’s first-time candidate Andrew Doyle on 4%.

Mr Wallace said he remained confident he would gain a seat, adding his passport was in order.

“It’s amazing the amount of support I’ve got,” 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.”

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

He joked: “I mean I generally change my clothes every day and I usually wash.

“Was it Brendan Behan who said: ‘I have a bath every year whether I’m dirty or not?’

“I have a shower every morning whether I’m dirty or not.”

The sitting TD vowed to “remain a thorn in the side of the Government here” if he did go to Brussels.

Ms Clune said she did not know how the seats would be allocated, adding she was trying to keep busy by “pulling the weeds” in her garden.

“I’ve been here before and you just absolutely do not know what’s going to happen with these elections … I don’t know, nobody can say,” she said.

Grace 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.

“We knew there was a 4% margin of error but when they came back and said there was 2% difference that was significant.

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

Ms O’Sullivan added: “Having had such a jubilant day on Sunday based on the polls, we all said we have had one really good day but now when you get that knock back it’s just a matter of staying in the game.”

The Green party candidate 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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