Sean Kelly first to win seat in Ireland South constituency during marathon count

Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly has taken the first seat in the Ireland South European election constituency.

The former GAA president hailed the win as “probably the greatest moment in my political career to be returned top of the poll by so many people”.

Speaking after he was elected on the ninth count Mr Kelly said he was “ecstatic”.

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“It’s something that I never expected, I couldn’t expect to be that high especially with three candidates from Fine Gael and I’m most grateful to everybody involved.

“I want to return to Brussels and really work hard for Ireland over the next five years,” he said.

Mr Kelly added that he would deliver for voters and make sure Ireland’s voice is heard in the European parliament.

“I’ll do like I did for the last five years…I will deliver…The European Parliament is about compromise, I’m good at that.”

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Asked whether there were MEPs milking the system, he said: “There are obviously those who work, there are obviously those who don’t.

“I’m thinking particularly of the far right, the extremists like Nigel Farage and those, they aren’t renowned for working…but those of us who believe in the European Union, who want the EU to be strong and above all for Ireland to play a strong part into the future we’re going to work our butts off.”

The Kerry native, who was first elected as an MEP in 2009, topped the poll with 118,444 first preference votes, but he failed to reach the quota of 119,866.

He surpassed the quota on the ninth count to be elected with 119,883 votes on the third day of a mammoth count in Co Cork.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted his congratulations to Mr Kelly on becoming the first over the line in the 12-county constituency.

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It is now a battle between Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher and Independents 4 Change candidate Mick Wallace to claim the second seat.

Mr Kelleher was in second place after the ninth count on 84,971 votes, while Mr Wallace was on 83,988.

Outgoing Sinn Fein MEP Liadh Ni Riada came in fourth with 80,377 votes after the ninth count.

The Greens’ Grace O’Sullivan continues to perform well on 77,415 votes as does Fianna Fail’s Malcolm Byrne with 70,898 votes.

Fine Gael’s outgoing MEP Deirdre Clune was on 65,558 after the ninth count, with newly elected Mr Kelly confident the party could gain a second seat.

European Parliament election
European Parliament election

The first count was declared on Monday evening but 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, some 200 staff are grappling with 750,000 ballot papers, weighing 7.5 tonnes.

It is a worrying time for the Green party senator Ms O’Sullivan, incumbent Fine Gael MEP Ms Clune and sitting Sinn Fein MEP Ms Ni Riada.

The three women are likely going to battle it out for the fourth and fifth seats in the constituency.

Fianna Fail’s second candidate Mr Byrne and Fine Gael’s third candidate in the running, junior minister Andrew Doyle, will be hoping transfers will see them leap-frog over other candidates to claim a seat.

Ireland South, which has an electorate of 1.4 million, had a total poll of 755,000 votes.

The latest indications are it may take until Thursday afternoon before all five seats are allocated.