FG tries to rescue Clune's campaign as rival calls for 'regional balance'
Sitting MEP at risk from Leinster-based hopefuls
Fine Gael's top brass have ridden in to try to rescue MEP Deirdre Clune's campaign amid growing pressure from candidates based in Leinster.
Both her party colleague Andrew Doyle and Fianna Fáil's Malcolm Byrne have spent the final days of the campaign actively telling voters not to give all five seats in the 12-county constituency to Cork and Kerry.
While not directly calling on his supporters to give transfers to the junior minister, Mr Byrne has effectively given his rival a nod by telling voters there needs to be "regional balance".
And in a direct appeal to Mr Doyle's voters, the Wexford councillor said they should look to transfer cross-party.
He claimed Fine Gael had abandoned Mr Doyle in order to save its sitting MEP, Ms Clune.
"The south-east and south Leinster has been neglected for too long and will not simply be 'sweeper' counties for a Cork MEP," Mr Byrne said.
His own running mate, Billy Kelleher, is a TD for Cork North Central.
Mr Doyle said his rivals' concern over party support was "touching".
"I'll be calling on our voters to vote party lines.
"I'll be sticking to that regardless of what else has happened.
"It's not my style [to defy party guidelines]," the Wicklow TD said.
"I still reckon I'm the best positioned Leinster candidate to secure a seat."
However, he did agree that the Ireland South constituency "is a little misleading" because it includes a chunk of Leinster.
The outgoing MEPs are Seán Kelly from Kerry, and Liadh Ní Riada, Brian Crowley and Ms Clune, from Cork.
With an extra seat available once Brexit take place, Mr Doyle predicted it's "inevitable" that one seat will go to a Leinster-based candidate.
Opinion polls suggest Independents4Change TD for Wexford Mick Wallace is also in the reckoning.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar travelled to Cork yesterday to spend the final hours of the campaign with Ms Clune, whose seat is under threat.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed also issued a letter calling on voters to help "retain our Cork MEP".
He cited polls which suggested Ms Clune's seat was under threat in a "very tight situation".
"It is vital that all Cork Fine Gael members, friends and those within their sphere of influence vote No 1 Deirdre Clune," the letter said.
He warned that "any divergence" from this strategy could cost the party a seat.
On the canvass trail, Ms Clune said Ireland needed a "steady" representative who could be a counterbalance to Nigel Farage. Mr Varadkar predicted that the Brexit Party will win the European election in the UK amid speculation over Theresa May's future in Downing Street.
"That's why it's really important in Ireland we send out a very clear message that we are pro-European, that we want to stay at the heart of Europe and that we're willing to send our best team to Europe," the Taoiseach said.
Counting in the European elections doesn't get under way until 9am on Sunday.
In Dublin, there is likely to be a tough contest for the final two places.
Fine Gael's Frances Fitzgerald, Barry Andrews (FF), Lynn Boylan (SF), Ciarán Cuffe (Green Party), Clare Daly (Independents4Change) and Alex White (Labour) are expected to be in the mix.
The vast Midlands North West constituency could take some time to count.
Mairead McGuinness (FG) is a clear favourite. Matt Carthy (SF), Luke 'Ming' Flanagan (Independent), Brendan Smith (FF), Peter Casey (Independent) and Maria Walsh (FG) are all in the mix for the final three seats.