Three-candidate strategy pays off for FG in Ireland South as Kelly and Clune elected
FINE Gael fought off challenges from Fianna Fail and an anti-bailout campaigner to win two European Parliament seats in Ireland South.
It proved a justification of the party’s geographic-based three-candidate strategy with Cork’s Sen Deirdre Clune taking the fourth seat ahead of her running mate, Wicklow’s Simon Harris TD, after a marathon three-day count.
FG’s outgoing MEP Sean Kelly comfortably retained his seat as Ireland South delivered one of the few brights spots for the party in a traumatic election.
Fianna Fail’s Brian Crowley topped the poll and was elected an MEP for the fifth time.
Sinn Fein’s Liadh Ni Riada, a daughter of famed composer Sean O Riada, took the second seat.
Three of the MEPs elected are from Cork while the fourth is from Kerry.
No Leinster candidate was elected.
FG headquarters insisted on running three candidates drawn from strategic parts of the vast Ireland South constituency which stretches from west Cork to Wicklow and from Wexford to north Clare.
“It was not easy because of the scale of the constituency and the way it was divided up. It is a crazy size. I’m just so grateful for the way people supported me,” former GAA President Sean Kelly said.
In a fitting twist, Mr Kelly officially opened the Nemo Rangers clubhouse in Cork, where the Ireland South Count took place, while GAA president in 2005.
FG celebrated winning two seats after Sen Clune, the daughter of former Tanaiste Peter Barry, narrowly managed to stay ahead of Mr Harris and win the final seat by 3,562 votes, (Clune 74,370 to Harris 70,808), on the 12th count.
Mr Harris was ahead on first preference votes but Sen Clune steadily ate into his lead and overtook him on the 10th count thanks to transfers from Labour’s Phil Prendergast.
Ms Clune, a staunch ally of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, lost her Dail seat in the 2011 General Election when many tipped her for a senior Government post.
“I’m just happy for Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the entire party that Ireland South elected two FG MEPs,” Ms Clune said.
Her election continues a political dynasty that dates back to her grandfather, Anthony Barry, who served as both a TD and a Lord Mayor of Cork.
Brian Crowley was elected on the first count with a massive 180,000 first-preference vote in the sprawling constituency of 1.2m people.
Incredibly, one in four Ireland South voters supported him.
However, it wasn’t enough to bring home his running mate, Waterford’s Kieran Hartley, whose disappointing first preference vote of 29,987 left him with an impossible battle.
Ms Ni Riada was elected on the fourth count and made history by becoming SF’s first MEP in Ireland South/Munster.
However, the 679,000-strong ballot proved heartbreaking for the dark horse challenger, Diarmuid O’Flynn.
The independent candidate and Cork sports journalist is best known as one of the founders of the Ballyhea Anti-Bailout Campaign.
He delivered a first preference total of 30,323 but astonished even experienced tallymen with his vote transfer strength.
Ultimately, he fell 8,000 votes shy of being in contention for the final seat.
“My abiding memory of this campaign will be the decency of Irish people. The richness of this country is its people if only the Government would realise that,” he said.
The fortunes of Labour’s outgoing MEP Phil Prendergast reflected those of her party throughout the Local and European elections.
Labour proved ‘transfer toxic’ in Ireland South and the Clonmel-based politician avoided being eliminated ahead of the Green’s Grace O’Sullivan by only 332 votes.