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

Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly has topped the poll in the Ireland South European election constituency and looks set to be elected in coming counts.

The first count results of the five-seater were declared on Monday evening with none of the 23 candidates reaching the quota.

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

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More than 200 election staff resumed counting at 9am on Monday for a second day, but with more than 750,000 ballot papers, weighing 7.5 tonnes, being sorted at the count centre, it was about 7.30pm before the first count was announced.

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

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

He 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 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 Deirdre Clune on 64,605 and Fianna Fail’s Andrew Doyle on 38,738.

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

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.”

A second count was declared shortly before 9pm, again without any candidate reaching the quota.

It brought Mr Kelly to 118,489, followed by Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher on 84,106 and Independents 4 Change Mick Wallace 81,994. After the first two counts Direct Democracy Ireland candidate Jan Va De Ven and Independent candidate Peter Madden had been eliminated.

While it is expected that Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher and Mick Wallace will win a seat, it is a worrying time for the Greens’ Grace O’Sullivan, Fine Gael’s incumbent MEP Deirdre Clune and Sinn Fein’s Liadh Ni Riada – who will most likely battle for the last seat.

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 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.

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.

“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.

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.

“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.