Crowley makes history as Clune and Harris face wait
FINE Gael is involved in a desperate battle for the fourth and final seat in Ireland South after Brian Crowley (FF) and Liadh Ni Riada (SF) made electoral history.
Mr Crowley was elected on the first count, Ms Ni Riada on the fourth count and Sean Kelly (FG) on a later count for the sprawling constituency of 1.2 million voters.
However, the focus is firmly on the fourth seat with FG's Deirdre Clune and Simon Harris battling Independent/Ballyhea Anti-Bailout campaigner Diarmuid O'Flynn, Fianna Fail's Kieran Hartley and the Green's Grace O'Sullivan.
Fine Gael hailed their geography-based three-candidate strategy as a success.
Simon Harris holds a slight lead over his Cork-based running mate Deirdre Clune.
Labour's Phil Prendergast was initially in the battle but transfers ran against her.
Less than 14,000 votes out of the 679,000 cast separate the six candidates.
Analysts said the elimination order would decide the destination of the final seat – with the exclusion of one FG candidate expected to push their running-mate close to the 131,500 quota.
It was a day of record-breaking electoral performances at Nemo Rangers GAA club in Cork where the Ireland South count was being held.
Veteran MEP Brian Crowley clinched his fifth European election victory since 1994 and once again topped the poll. His 180,329 first preference total meant that one-in-four Ireland South voters supported him.
It represents a personal triumph for the Cork politician who bravely battled back from health problems to secure his return to Brussels.
Mr Crowley, who was left paralysed by a childhood accident, is confined to a wheelchair and has suffered from leg sores over recent times related to his condition.
After enduring over 25 operations, he suggested to doctors last year they amputate his legs but they advised against it.
FF leader Micheal Martin paid tribute to Mr Crowley who he said was "an outstanding MEP and a remarkable campaigner."
Mr Crowley said he was "deeply humbled" by the scale of his support.
"I couldn't have done this without the team behind me – I am very grateful for the trust that people have placed in me once again and I will work tirelessly not to let them down."
The MEP is now expected to prepare for a presidential election bid in 2018.
The second seat went to SF's Liadh Ni Riada who fell just short of being elected on the first count. Ms Ni Riada secured 125,309 votes – just 6,000 short of the quota.
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It represented an incredible achievement for the first-time candidate from Ballyvourney in west Cork, who is a daughter of legendary composer Sean O Riada.
"It has been an incredible campaign and the reaction I got on doorsteps was nothing short of astonishing," she said.
She was serenaded in the Ireland South count centre by the famous traditional group, Cor Cuil Aodha, founded in Ballyvourney by her father.
The group gave a rousing rendition of one of her father's favourite songs, 'Mo Gille Mear'.Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams travelled to Cork to congratulate her.
"This is a watershed moment in Irish politics. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has tried to dismiss this as nothing but a protest vote. It certainly was not a protest vote," he said.
"We want to be in government. We are in government in the North. We need a mandate and I think Pearse Doherty put it well when he said Sinn Fein is hungry for change but we are not hungry to be in government. We are not going to leave our principles outside the door."
Former GAA president and outgoing MEP Sean Kelly (FG) said he was delighted with his vote and the party's strong showing in Ireland South.
He said the three-candidate strategy left them firmly in the hunt for two seats.