Another day of drama is expected in the Ireland South count today, as Seán Kelly became the first MEP elected in the constituency. It took 34 hours of counting before the former president of the GAA was re-elected to Europe, as the 2ft-long ballot featuring 23 candidates significantly delayed progress.
Mr Kelly had received 119,444 first-preference votes, but had to wait until the ninth count before being re-elected to the European Parliament. The Kerryman hailed the win as “probably the greatest moment in my political career, to be returned top of the poll by so many people”.
There was further drama last night, as Independents- 4Change candidate Mick Wallace overtook Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher, mopping up a considerable number of transfers throughout the day.
Mr Wallace, who performed better than exit polls had suggested, received the lion’s share of transfers from the majority of early eliminations. After the first count, there were 2,342 votes between Mr Kelleher who was in second position, and Mr Wallace in third, but after eight counts that gap had reduced to 1,070 votes. By the 12th count, the Wexford TD had jumped into second place, with 87,569 votes, while Mr Kelleher was on 87,036.
Mr Kelleher said:
I was always anticipating that Mick Wallace at some stage would catch me in the initial counts. That was quite obvious from the first count that that would be the case.
“A lot of the early eliminations would be from the ‘independent’ type of vote, so from that perspective that was no surprise to me.
“It’s now a case of where the sequencing of the eliminations will take place, who will start to be eliminated early on. From our perspective, we are still hoping there are going to be two seats, but that’s going to be very, very challenging.”
A tense tit-for-tat around ballot transfers is expected between both men, as more candidates are eliminated today. Solidarity PBP candidate Adrienne Wallace is expected to be excluded early today, with Labour party candidate Sheila Nunan expected to go out of the race shortly afterwards. Fine Gael’s Andrew Doyle is then expected to be eliminated.
Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada, Grace O’Sullivan of the Green Party, Fianna Fáil’s second candidate Malcolm Byrne, and outgoing Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune will then battle it out for the final two seats.
However, it could be late on Thursday or into the early hours of Friday before all five MEPs are elected in Ireland South. Speaking after he was elected on the ninth count, Mr Kelly said he was “ecstatic”.
It’s something that I never expected,” he said. “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.”
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,” he said.
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.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was among those to tweet their congratulations to Mr Kelly on becoming the first over the line in the 12-county constituency.