Counting of European election votes was due to resume in centres across Ireland today as pressure mounted on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
The loss of two seats by Fianna Fáil party was expected to be confirmed as the results of the counts in the four constituencies – Dublin, East, South and North West – were finally concluded.
The party’s misery was compounded when Donegal TD Jim McDaid, Dublin mayor Royston Brady and former government minister Gerard Collins were eliminated as the party experienced its worst vote since the 1930s.
Sinn Féin made serious inroads into Fianna Fáil support across the country and retained a chance of clinching two European seats to add to the party’s large gains in the local elections.
Their candidate in Northern Ireland, Bairbre de Brun, is also a virtual certainty to go into Europe when the counting of votes gets under way in Belfast later.
Fianna Fáil director of European elections John O’Donoghue said his party had taken a “shaking” from the electorate as the first day of counting of European Parliament votes came to an end.
However, the first man to be elected to Europe, sitting Fianna Fáil MEP Brian Crowley, was adamant Mr O’Donoghue was responsible for costing former minister Gerard Collins a seat in the South constituency.
Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney was second in the first count and was certain to be elected, while independent Kathy Sinnot vanquished Gerard Collins.
Gay Mitchell of Fine Gael topped the poll in Dublin and was elected on the first count, while Fianna Fáil’s Eoin Ryan took second place.
Labour’s Proinsias De Rossa and Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald looked set to complete the line-up in the four-seat constituency as the Dublin count continued into the morning.
But former election favourite Royston Brady saw his support collapse and was eliminated early from the race.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said the party’s strong showing across the country showed people wanted to see equality and an end to British rule in Ireland.
“People voted for our manifesto. They voted for our vision for Ireland,” he said.
“I think most people on this island, certainly most people in this state at a time of great wealth, want to see the defence of public services, they want to see people being treated properly, they want to see the housing crisis handled and they also want to see. And they also want to see an end to British rule on this island.”
The party’s candidate Pearse Doherty ate into Fianna Fáil support in the North West constituency and looked to be in with a good chance of success as Jim McDaid conceded early defeat.
Independent Marion Harkin topped the poll in the first count, with Mr Doherty in second spot and pre-election favourite Fianna Fail’s Sean O’Neachtain in third.
However, with Mr O’Neachtain assured the majority of his colleague, Dr McDaid’s, transfers he appeared set for the first seat, with Fine Gael’s Jim Higgins and independent incumbent Dana Rosemary Scallon still in contact with the battle for the second and third seats.
Fianna Fáil’s Liam Aylward was battling it out with Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness in the East constituency, while Avril Doyle looked like making it a Fine Gael one-two after a hugely successful weekend for the main opposition party.
Leader Enda Kenny said he was confident his party could form a new government after the next general election.
Mr Kenny said he would be probing the possibility of forming a coalition with the Labour and Green parties in a bid to oust the existing Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat government.
“I wouldn’t like to say it is easy to extrapolate Dáil seats from local elections but I am very happy,” he said.
“We have taken around 26% to 27% of the vote which gives around 30% of local election seats around the country.”
The one crumb of comfort for Fianna Fáil from a disastrous electoral weekend was the ratification of the Citizenship Referendum, which tightened immigration laws, with a Yes vote of 79%.