McGuinness set to top poll while newcomers in hunt for remaining seats
A massive battle is looming for the remaining seats in Midlands North-West as outgoing MEP Mairead McGuinness is set to top the poll and return to the European Parliament.
Five candidates are vying for the remaining three slots.
Independent Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy are under pressure amid the possibility of an upset from newcomers Saoirse McHugh of the Green Party and Fine Gael's Maria Walsh.
Controversial Independent candidate and former presidential hopeful Peter Casey is behind the rest of the pack but last night he insisted he still had "a very good chance".
He added: "As my mother would say, what's meant to be will not pass you by."
Mr Casey also told the Irish Independent: "I'll be standing in the Dáil if I don't get elected."
Ms McGuinness is widely expected to be elected with a large surplus on the first count, the result of which is due at lunchtime today. One estimate put her first-preference vote at more than 150,000. Fine Gael estimates project that 40pc of her transfers will go to Ms Walsh.
Mr Flanagan was keeping a close eye at the Castlebar count centre, where he was engrossed in analysing transfer patterns.
He told Newstalk radio he was transfer-friendly in 2014, adding: "I would be again this time, but...it's with the gods."
Mr Carthy's Sinn Féin colleague Senator Rose Conway-Walsh said: "We're in there fighting for the seat." However, she couldn't predict where he would come.
Local Fine Gael minister Michael Ring said: "I'm very confident and I think we're going to win the two seats." He said there had been a "tremendous performance" by Ms McGuinness and Ms Walsh is an "exceptional candidate".
Both Ms Walsh and Ms McHugh remain strongly in the hunt for a seat. Former Rose of Tralee Ms Walsh predicted her party colleague would keep her seat but "after that it's anybody's game".
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil faces the prospect of winning no seats in the constituency for the second European election in a row. Its candidates, TDs Brendan Smith and Anne Rabbitte, languished on 6pc and 3pc in the RTÉ exit poll.