Ireland South: Billy Kelleher elected as Fine Gael's Deirdre Clune performs another miracle recovery
FORMER Fianna Fáil Junior Minister Billy Kelleher was elected to the European Parliament for Ireland South with a massive vote transfer from his running mate Councillor Malcolm Byrne.
However, in a dramatic development, outgoing Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune performed another transfer miracle and jumped ahead of her two main re-election rivals, Senator Grace O'Sullivan of the Green Party and outgoing MEP Liadh Ni Riada of Sinn Fein.
Just 2,400 votes in Ireland South now separates Ms Clune, Ms Ni Riada and Senator O'Sullivan out of more than 755,000 cast.
Incredibly, only 522 votes separated the Green Party and Sinn Fein candidates after the seventeenth count as both vied for the fifth seat.
Ms Clune has a lead of just under 1,900 votes from her nearest rival.
However, the seventeenth count, which was the distribution of Councillor Byrne's 80,000 votes, saw Mr Kelleher elected with a massive transfer of 38,767 - but Ms Clune critically outperformed her two rivals, having trailed both by almost 18,000 votes before the sixteenth count.
In 2014, she delivered another transfer miracle by overtaking her running mate, Health Minister Simon Harris, on the tenth count to be elected an MEP.
The order of the final three seats in Ireland South will now be determined by the distribution of Mr Kelleher's 11,000 vote surplus.
He exceeded the quota of 119,866 by 11,786.
That count and distribution is now underway in the Nemo Rangers GAA complex in Cork.
Outgoing Fine Gael MEP and former GAA President Sean Kelly had topped the poll and was elected on the ninth count on Tuesday.
The elimination of Fianna Fail's Councillor Malcolm Byrne after the sixteenth count guaranteed the election of Mr Kelleher who had come second in first preferences but had been slowly overtaken by Mr Wallace on transfers.
The Cork TD last night secured a massive vote transfer from his Wexford running mate.
"I'm delighted to be elected and overall I think it has been a very strong European Parliament and Local Government election campaign for Fianna Fáil," he said.
Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin said he was "very pleased" with the strong performance of both Mr Kelleher and Councillor Byrne.
However, it was Mick Wallace who proved the surprise package of the Ireland South campaign by coming third in first preferences - and then proving so transfer friendly he surged past Mr Kelleher before the seventeenth count.
He is poised to clinch the third seat in Ireland South with over 109,000 votes.
He is almost 12,000 votes ahead of Ms Clune in fourth place with 97,935.
Senator O'Sullivan is on 96,095 and Ms Ni Riada is on 95,573 - with Mr Kelleher's surplus now set to decide who takes the final two seats.
Mr Wallace attended the Nemo Rangers GAA count centre with Clare Daly TD who was elected an MEP in Dublin.
He said he was "thrilled" by his performance - and vowed to prove as much a thorn in the side of the Government and vested interests in Brussels as he had in the Dail.
However, while it was apparent at the outset that Mick Wallace and Billy Kelleher would join Sean Kelly in Brussels, the focus at the count centre over the past two days was on the tense battle between Fine Gael, Sinn Fein and the Green Party for the final two seats.
Ms Clune appeared to be out of the running until a remarkable 20,183 vote transfer from Labour's Sheila Nunan and Fine Gael's Minister Andrew Doyle put her neck-and-neck with Senator O'Sullivan and Ms Ni Riada.
Just 3,400 votes separated all three women at the sixteenth count - with only 1,300 votes between the Sinn Fein and Green Party candidates.
Ms Clune secured much stronger transfers from Councillor Byrne than anticipated.
She is now almost 1,900 votes ahead of her nearest rival.
Her strong performance was celebrated at the count centre by Tanaiste Simon Coveney.