09 June 2024

It will take ‘a miracle’ to finish first count in Ireland South by Sunday night

09 June 2024

It would take “a miracle” to finish the first count by Sunday night in the South constituency of Ireland’s European elections, the returning officer has said.

Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly and Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher appeared to be polling strongly as count workers sorted through ballot papers in the 10-county constituency in Ireland’s European election.

The two incumbent MEPs also appear to be transferring well to one another over their running mates, in a sign of the strength of the coalition government of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green party.

Independent Clare TD Michael McNamara, who was vocal in his opposition to the two defeated March referenda; Sinn Fein TD Kathleen Funchion; and ex-Co Wexford TD Mick Wallace are polling well behind them.

Irish deputy premier Micheal Martin said that it was making for a “really fascinating contest” for the three final seats in Ireland South.

The Green Party’s Grace O’Sullivan said “it feels like it’s slipping away” in keeping her MEP seat in Ireland South, though she added that she was still hopeful of transfers.

Ms O’Sullivan said “there is a lot of shifting sands” after the election results, and that it was possible that Irish premier Simon Harris would call an early election.

“Things have shifted in people’s minds, so I’ve come up here to Cork and I’m getting a sense that the tide is going out in a way.”

She said she was “really disappointed” with the Green Party’s results in the local elections, but said voters “have other things on their mind”, including housing, migration and the cost of living.

As the ballot papers are quite long, an initial “sub-sort” took place at Nemo Rangers count centre in Co Cork on Sunday.

Papers with a No 1 vote on the top half of the ballot were put in one pile and ballots with a first preference on the bottom half in another.

Returning officer Martin Harvey said there were around 715,000 ballot papers and 250 staff.

But despite having the same number of candidates and count staff as last year, it was “unlikely” that the first count would be complete on Sunday.

“We want to just be careful,” Mr Harvey said, adding that they would make the final call on whether to continue counting at around 9pm on Sunday.

Ireland’s proportional representation system means counting could go on for days before the five seats in the 10-county constituency are filled.

Count staff were seen with reams of ballots slung over their shoulder as they busily sorted papers into cubby-holes.

There were very few ballots with numbered preferences all the way down, with many voters having numbered their preferences up to six at the most.

One ballot paper gave Mr Kelleher a “20” with no other preferences, while another had a Star of David drawn in the middle.

There were five MEPs elected to the Ireland South constituency in 2019: Mr Kelly and Deirdre Clune for Fine Gael, Mr Kelleher for Fianna Fail, Ms O’Sullivan and Mr Wallace of Independents4Change.

The constituency – which spans 10 counties, from The Burren in Co Clare, down to the Ring of Kerry and up to Bray in Co Wicklow – represents around 1.2 million voters.

In the last European Parliament election, Mr Kelly, a former GAA president, topped the poll with just a few votes short of the quota of 119,866.

Mr Kelly, from Killarney, Co Kerry, is one of Ireland’s second longest-serving MEPs, having first been elected in 2009.

Mr Kelleher, a former TD and junior minister, and Mr Wallace won 11.69% and 11.37% of the first preference vote respectively last time.

A battle then erupted between Sinn Fein’s incumbent MEP Liadh Ni Riada, an Irish-speaking TV producer who ran as a presidential candidate in 2018, and Ms O’Sullivan, a former Greenpeace activist and surfer from Co Waterford.

More than 300 votes separated the two candidates for the fourth seat, and a recount was ordered before Ms Ni Riada conceded eight days later.

The distribution of her votes saw Ms O’Sullivan win the fourth seat and Ms Clune, a former Cork South-Central TD, take the fifth seat without reaching the quota.

Sinn Fein will be hoping Ms Funchion will regain the MEP seat.

Other notable candidates in this constituency for 2024 are Fianna Fail’s Cynthia Ni Mhurchu, co-host of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest; Aontu’s Patrick Murphy, who was among a group of fishermen who opposed a flotilla of Russian warships located off the south-west coast of Ireland; and anti-immigration activist Derek Blighe.

Of the 23 candidates in Ireland South, seven are independents and three are from new parties.

Among the issues which will be watched closely is the performance of candidates who called for much stricter rules on immigration during their campaigns.

Some parties formed in Ireland in recent months have called for clampdowns on immigration and criticised climate change policies, replicating a trend taking place in other European Union nations.

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