The mammoth task of counting votes at the Ireland South European Parliament constituency looks set to continue much longer than anyone expected.
A full recount and recheck was ordered late on Wednesday night at the end of the fourth day of counting after Sinn Fein’s Liadh Ni Riada made the request when just 327 votes separated her and the Green Party’s Grace O’Sullivan on the 18th count.
The count was adjourned and is set to resume on Thursday morning at 9am.
The decision came within hours of Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher securing the second seat in the five-seater constituency.
Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly was the first person elected in the 12-county electoral area on Tuesday afternoon after topping the poll with 119,883 votes.
Independents 4 Change candidate Mick Wallace looks set to take the third seat with 112,441 votes.
The race for the fourth seat and fifth – the so-called “Brexit seat” – has been tight throughout the count.
Following the 18th count, Fine Gael’s incumbent MEP Deidre Clune was in fourth place with 101,012 votes, Ms O’Sullivan was in the running for the fifth seat on 98,706.
Ms Ni Riada followed closely behind on 98,379.
The fifth seat cannot be taken up until Britain leaves the EU.
The state of play after the 17th count in #IrelandSouth. @BillyKelleherTD takes the second EP seat. Four candidates now battling it out for the three remaining seats #EP2019@PApic.twitter.com/pIFBxiNuNc
— Michelle Devane (@michelledevane) May 29, 2019
Fine Gael’s Andrew Doyle, Labour’s Sheila Nunan and Fianna Fail’s Malcolm Byrne were eliminated on Wednesday.
Speaking at the count centre earlier in the day, Ms O’Sullivan said: “I was looking for a little miracle and it has happened.
“We knew all along that the Sheila Nunan/Labour vote would be a good transfer. We expected that there would be a Green vote coming out of Andrew Doyle’s because of Wicklow and that strong green position in Wicklow so I got that absolute boost.
“Now I am feeling very confident but it still has a way to go. Happy days so far.”
As the race heated up on Wednesday afternoon, Sinn Fein remained confident that their candidate could take a seat.
Speaking at the count, Sinn Fein TD Jonathan O’Brien said he still believed they were “in a very strong position”.
Asked if the party would be disappointed if Ms Ni Riada ends up taking the fifth seat, he said: “A seat is a seat, we set out to win a seat. If it’s the fifth seat obviously we will need to analyse the impact that has because nobody is exactly sure what the fifth seat entails yet.”
The count, which began on Sunday, has been delayed by the sheer size and volume of the 2ft long ballot papers featuring 23 candidates.
Ireland South, which has an electorate of 1.4 million, had a total poll of 755,000 votes. It means some 200 staff have been struggling to grapple with 750,000 ballot papers, weighing 7.5 tonnes.