Crowley lays down a marker for presidency bid
BRIAN Crowley made an emphatic case for a 2018 presidential election bid by topping the poll in Ireland South and clinching election to the EU Parliament for the fifth time.
The triumph was all the sweeter for the Fianna Fail MEP as he overcame severe health problems over the past three years to bravely continue his Brussels career.
He is certain to be joined in the European Parliament by fellow Cork native, Liadh Ni Riada, who will clinch the second seat with a stunning performance for Sinn Fein.
Fine Gael MEP and former GAA President Sean Kelly is also expected to retain his seat.
SF President Gerry Adams is expected to travel today to the Ireland South count centre in Nemo Rangers GAA club to congratulate Ms Ni Riada on her strong vote.
Tallies had put Ms Ni Riada on 17pc but her final vote is expected to be significantly higher.
Mr Crowley is expected to be elected on the first ballot in Ireland South today with the total poll attracting over 680,000 ballots. The count is expected to continue into tomorrow.
"I'm delighted with my performance and I want to say how grateful I am to all those people who campaigned for me and have put their trust in me over the past 20 years. I have always tried to repay that faith," Mr Crowley said.
Mr Crowley, who turned 50 last March, was so ill last year from sores related to being in a wheelchair that he asked surgeons to amputate his legs.
The Bandon-born politician has been paralysed for over 30 years since a childhood accident.
The MEP was annoyed three years ago when Fianna Fail refused to run him as a candidate in the presidential election following its general election meltdown.
But Mr Crowley has made no secret of his ambition to contest an Aras an Uachtarain election and friends said his European electoral track record leaves him ideally placed for 2018.
FF leader Micheal Martin paid tribute to the party's poll-topper.
"The tallies have been poor here but the one thing we certainly do know is that Brian Crowley will be well and truly elected on that first count," Mr Martin said.
FG look set to take the third seat with Sean Kelly MEP but there is a major battle emerging for the fourth and final seat.
One of FG's Deirdre Clune and Simon Harris remain favourites to take the berth but unexpectedly strong challenges are being mounted by the Greens' Grace O'Sullivan, Ballyhea anti-bailout campaigner Diarmuid O'Flynn, and FF's Kieran Hartley.
Ms O'Sullivan said she was "astonished and delighted" with the strength of her vote and predicted that it marked a renaissance for the Green Party.
Critical for FG will be which of Ms Clune and Mr Harris finish ahead of each other.
Labour's Phil Prendergast will not be in the running, while Mr Hartley is entirely dependent on transfers from his running mate going heavily in his favour to remain in contention.
Transfers will decide the fourth seat but are notoriously difficult to predict in the sprawling constituency where geographic rather than political factors are often crucial.