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Counting continues as Government mulls by-elections conundrum

Counting is continuing in the European election in Ireland (Gareth Chaney/PA)
Counting is continuing in the European election in Ireland (Gareth Chaney/PA)

Counting is continuing in the European elections in Ireland, with the final results potentially still days away.

Nine of the country’s 14 MEPs have yet to be confirmed, with counting completed in only one of the three constituencies.

As candidates with the least amount of votes were eliminated over the course of Wednesday in the two other constituencies, no clearer picture emerged of who would be elected.

Unpredictable transfers, which political anoraks said were not following traditional political patterns, are adding to the drama of who will claim the final seats.

On Tuesday night, the four MEPs who will represent Dublin in the European Parliament were elected at the end of the three days of counting.

Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty, Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews, Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan and Labour’s Aodhan O Riordain all confirmed their places in Brussels.

Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Simon Harris, Tanaiste and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald and Labour leader Ivana Bacik were all in attendance to congratulate their candidates amid celebratory scenes at the RDS count centre.

European and local elections
European Fianna Fail candidate Barry Andrews celebrates his election (Gareth Chaney/PA)

The four winning candidates were all elected when Independent Ireland candidate Niall Boylan became the last to be eliminated in the closely fought contest.

Only one other MEP has so far been elected in Ireland – Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly in Ireland South.

That count, and the count in the Midlands-North-West constituency, could extend for several more days before reaching conclusion.

In Ireland’s local elections battle, Fianna Fail edged just ahead of Fine Gael on Tuesday evening with 246 seats to 245, with only a handful of 949 seats left to declare.

In a landmark poll in Limerick for Ireland’s first directly-elected mayor, independent candidate John Moran secured victory late on Tuesday afternoon.

European and local elections
European Labour candidate Aodhan O Riordain TD celebrates with party leader Ivana Bacik (right) and senator Marie Sherlock (Gareth Chaney/PA)

Results emerging from the three elections, which were held last Friday, have provided a political fillip for coalition partners Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, while Sinn Fein has initiated a review after performing well below the party’s own expectations.

Both main Government parties attracted around 23% of first preference votes, while Sinn Fein trailed in on 12% – a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for the main opposition party which emerged from the 2020 general election winning the popular vote on 24.5%.

While the European picture is still incomplete, the election results to date have fuelled speculation that the coalition may look to call a general election earlier than the current projected timeline of spring 2025.

However, the leaders of all three coalition parties – Mr Harris, Mr Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan – have all insisted they remain committed to the current government going full term.

For her part, Sinn Fein leader Ms McDonald, who is now facing questions over her stewardship of the party, has struck a defiant tone, urging Mr Harris to “bring it on” and call an early election.

With Mr O Riordain a sitting TD, and other TDs in contention for the remaining European seats, there will be a need for at least one by-election in the coming six months.

European and local elections
Candidate Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan leads the way in the Midlands-North-West constituency (Niall Carson/PA)

That has added to speculation that the Government may seek an earlier general election, rather than fighting several potential by-elections only months before the Dail is dissolved.

In the Ireland South constituency, Fine Gael’s Mr Kelly became the first MEP elected in Ireland, taking the first of five seats on Monday night.

Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher is in place to take the second seat, but the final three seats are considered too close to call.

Independent TD Michael McNamara and Fianna Fail candidate and 1994 Eurovision host Cynthia Ni Mhurchu are well placed.

Outgoing MEP Mick Wallace, Sinn Fein TD Kathleen Funchion and the Green Party’s Grace O’Sullivan also look to be in the race for a seat.

Deirdre Clune, who was the last MEP to be elected to the Ireland South constituency in 2019, said it was impossible to tell how the transfers would go.

European and local elections
John Moran has been elected as Limerick’s first directly-elected mayor (Niall Carson/PA)

“There could be a pocket of votes there, a surprise 10,000 votes for somebody, a 5,000 that they weren’t expecting that would push them ahead of another, so anybody who thinks they can predict this, they’re trying to fool us, because you can’t. There is no way of predicting it.”

The returning officer expects the count in Cork to extend into Thursday.

The Midlands-North-West constituency saw the first count conclude late on Monday night, as officials grappled with the process of whittling down 27 candidates vying for five seats.

Independent incumbent MEP Luke “Ming” Flanagan emerged as the frontrunner after topping the poll.

He was still leading the pack as counting continued into Wednesday evening. Next were Fine Gael candidates Nina Carberry, a former jockey, and Maria Walsh, who is seeking re-election.

If the race stays as it currently stands, Barry Cowen will be heading to Strasbourg as an MEP for Fianna Fail in the fourth seat.

Counting at TF Royal Theatre in Castlebar for the Midlands North West constituency in Ireland in the European elections
Candidates have predicted the count in Castlebar could go on for several days before the results were confirmed (Niall Carson/PA)

Independent Ireland candidate and former RTE correspondent Ciaran Mullooly is favourite for the fifth and final seat, meaning Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew, who was her party’s main hope of retaining a seat in the constituency, may miss out if she does not receive favourable transfers.

Ms Gildernew appeared more positive about her chances on Wednesday, saying that she had “a fighting chance”.

Asked if she had changed her mind since her initial comments which suggested she would lose out to Mr Mullooly, Ms Gildernew said: “Anything can happen in this election, lads.”

Candidates have predicted the count in Castlebar could go on for several days before the results were confirmed.