Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly has admitted that he is "worried" about the forthcoming European elections after it emerged that his running mate Deirdre Clune secured about one-third more delegate votes than him at Sunday's selection convention.
Both sitting MEPs in Ireland South, Kelly and Clune, were chosen by 800-plus Fine Gael members to contest the next election in May, along with Andrew Doyle from Wicklow who is a long-serving TD and currently minister of state.
Voting numbers were not publicly released by Fine Gael following the convention in Clonmel's Hotel Minella but Deirdre Clune secured 298 of the first preference votes, well ahead of Seán Kelly on 225, with Andrew Doyle on 161 and Laois-Offaly TD Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy on 115.
Both Kelly and Clune surpassed the quota of 199 on the first count and the surplus was almost evenly distributed among Doyle and Corcoran-Kennedy, putting the Wicklow TD over the line.
"I wouldn't say I'm not worried about it, I certainly would be worried about it," Seán Kelly said on Monday in relation to the voting numbers.
"You just have to look at the history of European elections, I'm the only person from Kerry ever to be elected.
People on the periphery of any boundary are going to find it more difficult than people in the centre.
"I would hope that, in the election, the hard work I've done and the achievements in Europe will be well looked upon by the electorate. Hopefully they will see I've given it 100 percent and I've been effective."
Asked if he was surprised by the gap between himself and Cork-based Deirdre Clune at the convention, the former GAA president said: "Not really, because it's a big county [Cork]. They've a way bigger vote than Kerry. We're so far south-west, with our backs to the sea, it's going to be a difficult position.
"It takes an extremely special effort to be nominated, not to mind elected... Yesterday was about getting on the ticket and we're on the ticket now and we'll put our best foot forward."
Delegates are believed to have gone for Andrew Doyle as the third candidate in attempt to sweep up votes along the eastern half of the constituency, which takes in all of Munster as well as Wicklow, Laois-Offaly, Kilkenny-Carlow and Wexford. Doyle's constituency colleague, Simon Harris, ran in 2014 and was only beaten on the last count by Deirdre Clune for the fourth seat.
This time the constituency has five seats, with Fianna Fáil expected to take the seat about to be vacated by poll-topper Brian Crowley and Sinn Féin expected to hold onto the seat won last time by Liadh Ní Riada. The fifth seat could be between a third Fine Gael candidate, second Fianna Fáil candidate and Green Party senator Grace O'Sullivan who polled respectably in 2014.
A Fine Gael delegate said on Monday that the convention was a major boost for Deirdre Clune, who is likely to have been backed in large numbers by Cork delegates. "Deirdre Clune, as evidenced by the convention seems to be very strong and seems to have consolidated Cork and Waterford. The fact that Crowley has gone might make her a lot stronger."
However, others in the party pointed out that Cork has more delegates to the convention than the likes of Kerry or Limerick, which would be seen as Seán Kelly strongholds, skewing the numbers in Clune's favour.