Sinn Féin calls off EU vote recount as Greens take seat
Sinn Féin dramatically withdrew its request for a full recount in the European Parliament election for Ireland South after initial counting indicated no major ballot anomalies.
The move came just one day into the full recount of the 755,987 ballots after the week-long count had outgoing Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada poised to lose her seat by a mere 326 votes to the Green Party's Senator Grace O'Sullivan.
Returning officer Martin Harvey had granted the full recount last Thursday after a day-long recheck of votes had granted Ms Ní Riada just a single extra vote, reducing her deficit to Senator O'Sullivan from 327 votes to 326 votes.
It was initially indicated the full recount could take between three and four weeks to complete because of a reduced count staff - at an estimated cost of €1m.
A day-long recounting of ballots at the Nemo Rangers GAA complex in Cork did not reveal any major ballot anomalies - with Green Party and Sinn Féin officials scrutinising all votes.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald had confirmed the party would review the matter as the numbers came in.
"If it becomes apparent that the result is not going to change, then of course at that stage then the counting will end," she said.
Yesterday, the party formally withdrew its request for a full recount.
Mr Harvey and his count staff will today begin the distribution of Ms Ní Riada's vote to determine the precise placings of the final three candidates - Independent Wexford TD Mick Wallace, Senator O'Sullivan and Fine Gael's outgoing MEP Deirdre Clune.
Senator O'Sullivan expressed mixed emotions last night about the roller-coaster count and recount.
"It has ended very well for me but I am quite sad for Liadh Ní Riada - I feel she served the country well as an MEP.
"I wished she would be going to Europe as an MEP alongside me," she said. "We will see where we are going tomorrow with the vote distribution."
"It has been a tough day but it is certainly far tougher this evening for Liadh than for me," she added.
Analysts said Senator O'Sullivan now had a very good chance of overtaking Ms Clune who is currently 2,306 votes ahead of her Green Party rival.
Senator O'Sullivan snatched the European Parliament seat with a vote of 98,706 after a marathon four-day count - a mere 327 (later 326) votes ahead of her rival, Ms Ni Riada, who garnered 98,379.
The distribution of the Sinn Féin vote will today determine who secures the fifth or 'zombie' MEP seat to be filled only after Brexit.
Fine Gael MEP and former GAA president Sean Kelly topped the poll and was elected on the ninth count.
Former Fianna Fáil minister Billy Kelleher was elected on the 17th count after exceeding the quota while Mr Wallace (112,441) and Ms Clune (101,012) face being elected today. The quota is 119,866 votes.
Ms Clune delivered another miraculous performance on transfers - turning an 18,000 deficit to Senator O'Sullivan and Ms Ní Riada around in the space of just two counts.