European elections: Cuffe, Kelly and McGuinness on track but lengthy ballot papers leading to lengthy delays
OF the three sprawling European election constituencies in Ireland, only Dublin was able to return a first preference result at 10pm on Sunday - and no new Irish MEP has yet been confirmed.
The Green Party's Ciaran Cuffe topped the poll with 63,849 first preferences in Dublin, but did not make the quota of 72,790.
However, he is expected to get over the line early on Monday, while two of his party colleagues are in the running to take seats in Ireland's other two constituencies.
The first count is not expected in Ireland South or Midlands North West until some time on Monday, with the unwieldy ballot papers in both constituencies among the issues being blamed for the slow returns.
In Dublin, Mr Cuffe was followed closely by Fine Gael's Frances Fitzgerald with more than 59,000 first preferences, while an RTE exit poll that indicated that Fianna Fail's Barry Andrews could struggle to get a seat seems to have been slightly off. He took 51,420 first preferences and will be hopeful of getting the third seat in the four-seat constituency.
Earlier, Mr Cuffe, posed briefly for pictures after arriving at Dublin's count centre in Simmonscourt. But when asked was he celebrating yet, he said he did not want to tempt fate.
"I'll wait until I see what is going on until I do any cheering," he said.
"I don't want to tempt fate, I'm here to have a look at the spoiled votes, if things go well, I'll be celebrating when the count comes in, but for the moment I am just here to have a look."
The RTE/TG4 poll indicates that the councillor will win the seat with 23pc of the vote.
The exit poll put Fine Gael TD Frances Fitzgerald on 14pc, while Fianna Fail's Barry Andrews and Independent TD Clare Daly are both on 12pc.
Sinn Fein's Lynn Boylan will struggle to retain her seat as early indications put her on 10pc.
Ms Fitzgerald said it was "interesting" that some of her transfer votes went to Mr Andrews.
"It seems that in European elections the transfers go across the whole wide variety of candidates," she said.
"It does seem as if the left haven't done well in these elections and maybe people are voting more centrist. I think that would be a reflection of that if that is the case.
"Climate change is very on the agenda and I think ... people wanted to give a message about climate change and that's very clear."
Addressing questions about the possibility of an early general election, Ms Fitzgerald said there are a lot of factors at play including the "very uncertain" situation in British politics.
"I think there's a lot of challenges out there, stability is important," she added.
Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan has conceded he is unlikely to win a seat in the European Parliament.
Mr Durkan ran as a Fine Gael candidate in the Dublin constituency. An RTE exit poll predicted his vote share was just 5pc
"I'm not in here believing I am going to defy the gravity of the exit poll," he said.
"But I don't regret running, I've enjoyed the conversations with people across Dublin, I've enjoyed it as an experience.
"I've enjoyed listening to the arguments and the ideas of other candidates as well, I have huge respect for a range of other candidates."
A two-foot long ballot paper is slowing counting in the Ireland South European election count centre, where outgoing Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly looks set to become the first candidate to take a seat.
Mr Kelly said he was "hopeful" of retaining his seat and described it as "encouraging to be there or thereabouts".
An RTE/TG4 exit poll predicted Mr Kelly will top the poll with 16% of first preferences, followed by Sinn Fein's Liadh Ni Riada and Fianna Fail's Billy Kelleher, both of whom are on 13%, while the Green Party's Grace O'Sullivan is on 12% of first preference votes.
"We put in a hard campaign, a long campaign.... Sometimes people say people don't notice what's going on in Europe, but I think if I do well it's an example to everybody that if you work hard people will notice," Mr Kelly said on his arrival at Cork count centre on Sunday evening.
More than 200 staff began sub-sorting ballot papers at the centre in Nemo Rangers GAA Club on Sunday morning.
But, with more than 750,000 papers to be counted, first count results from the constituency are not expected until Monday.
Indications are it may take at least four days for the count to be completed.
Sinn Fein candidate Liadh Ni Riada said she was hopeful of retaining her MEP seat, but she said she did not consider herself a shoe-in.
"You're never fully confident, and you're just hopeful. That's exactly the position I'm in now," she said. "It's not over until all the votes are counted."
She added: "I'm not putting my eggs in one basket and thinking that I'm a shoe-in. We'll have to wait and see."
It is set to be a worrying few days for the Green's Grace O'Sullivan, Independents 4 Change candidate Mick Wallace and Fine Gael's Deirdre Clune - who will most likely battle for the last seat.
Mr Kelly said he believed Fine Gael was "very much in contention" to retain two seats, despite exit poll results showing the party's candidates, outgoing Ms Clune and first-time EU candidate Andrew Doyle, potentially being in difficulty.
"Transfers have a big bearing on a constituency and particularly when you have 23 candidates where there is going to be a whole pile of transfers and if they fall the right way they're going to push up candidates quite a lot," Mr Kelly added.
Ms O'Sullivan said she had worked "very hard" and that she was hoping she would "get that surge" in the end.
She added that there was a "lot of green washing going on" by other parties during the elections, but she believed voters had seen through this.
Of all of the three European election constituencies, transfers will be most important in Ireland South.
It could see Fianna Fail's Malcom Byrne or Fine Gael's Mr Doyle surge past other candidates.
Midlands North West
Sitting MEP Mairead McGuinness looks likely to top the poll in the hotly contested Midlands North West seats.
Ms McGuinness said she hopes that if she is successful, transfers will go to her running mate, former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh, for the second seat.
"I'm a cautious person and I take nothing for granted," Ms McGuinness said on Sunday evening at the count centre in Castlebar, Co. Mayo.
"I got a strong cross party vote in my view, as people have said to me that they're not Fine Gael voters but they like what I do.
"If I get through on first count, I'll be relieved, it's a bit surreal as well when you hear it.
"What they're saying here about transfers is that 40pc will go to Maria, I'd be happy with that. Obviously I would like it to be 100% but that's not how politics works."
When asked about how she felt about the possibility of heading back to Brussels to "hang around" with Nigel Farage, Ms McGuinness said she would rather "eat razor blades" than work with the Brexit Party leader.
The RTE/TG4 poll indicates the sitting MEP should retain her seat with the quota likely to be around 20%.
If Fine Gael are successful for the first two seats, the battle for the other two seats will come down to a fight between Independent MEP Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, Green Party candidate Saoirse McHugh, Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy and Independent Peter Casey.
Mr Carthy polled at 15pc with Ms McHugh 12pc ahead of incumbent Independent Mr Flannagan at 10%.
Ms Walsh polled at 10pc but could overtake Mr Flanagan when Ms McGuinness has her transfers distributed.
Ms McHugh has become an unexpected contender for the seat, following a much-praised TV debate appearance, and the "Green wave" of new support for Green Party candidates, with commentators speculating that the electorate has put climate change as a top priority in this election.
Ms McHugh has said in a number of interviews that she would be prepared to leave the Green Party should they ever go into coalition with Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.
Fianna Fail have polled poorly in the constituency, with candidates Brendan Smith and Anne Rabbitte on 9% of the exit poll vote between them.
The party lost the seat in the 2014 election after Pat "The Cope" Gallagher failed to be re-elected after two terms at the European Parliament.
Electoral officers say they are expecting the first count to be declared in Castlebar on Monday afternoon.
The constituency covers counties Cavan, Donegal, Galway, Kildare, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo, Westmeath and Galway city.