Fianna Fail's Bobby Aylward victorious in Carlow/Kilkenny by-election
Bobby Aylward beats Fine Gael and Sinn Fein rivals
Fianna Fail candidate Bobby Aylward won the Carlow/Kilkenny by-election just after 2am this morning on the ninth count.
After almost 10 hours of counting in The Hub event centre in Cillian Hill, outside Kilkenny City, the returning officer last night announced Mr Aylward had taken almost 28pc of the poll with 18,572 votes.
Trailing behind him was Fine Gael's David Fitzgerald with 13,744, or a little more than 20pc of the poll, which had a 65.7pc turnout.
Sinn Fein candidate Kathleen Funchion received 10,806, however, party sources have conceded she is out of the race.
Renua candidate Patrick McKee received 6,365 votes but party leader Lucinda Creighton earlier praised her party's first election candidate and insisted he will take a seat at the next general election.
Labour's Willie Quinn received just 4,673 votes, or 7pc of the poll, most of which came from Carlow where he is based.
The Green Party's Malcom Noonan received 4,673 votes, and Anti Austerity Alliance candidate Conor MacLiam received 2,194 votes, while People Before Profit's Adrienne Wallace got 2,377.
Independent Breda Gardner was strongest of the non-party candidates with 2,792 votes.
Four other Independent candidates - Daithi Holohan, Elizabeth Hourihane, Peter O'Loughlin and Noel Walsh were eliminated.
Ayward was announced as the winner of the election just after 2am this morning. Fianna Fail's Barry Fitzgerald came second, while Sinn Fein's Kathleen Funchion came third.
Aylward won the election on the transfers from Sinn Fein's Funchion.
A clearly confident Mr Aylward arrived at the count centre just after 1pm yesterday and insisted he was "optimistic but cautious" of taking the seat.
A win will be a welcome confidence boost for Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who has faced months of questions over his leadership as the party failed to make any gains in opinion polls.
Fianna Fail director of elections Barry Cowen insisted the almost certain win for Mr Aylward would finally "put to bed" internal wranglings over the leadership of the party.
"No more than any other election campaign, Micheal has been very much involved and played a leading role in this campaign," Mr Cowen told the Sunday Independent. "I know the organisation here in Kilkenny were very grateful for that participation, the leadership he has shown and the assistance he gave to Bobby in order for him to be successful."
Mr Aylward also backed Mr Martin's leadership and said he will lead the party into a general election even if Fianna Fail lost the by-election.
"Win, lose or draw Micheal Martin will still be leader of Fianna Fail and will be leader of Fianna Fail going into the next election," he said. "I don't think it was an issue at this election. It was about a Carlow/Kilkenny seat that was vacant and had nothing to do with Micheal's leadership. The media tried to turn it into that but as far as I was concerned, it was never about Micheal's leadership."
Earlier in the day, senior Labour ministers arrived at The Hub to commiserate with Willie Quinn before heading to Dublin for the same-sex marriage referendum celebrations.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin and local minister Ann Phelan also made appearances at the count.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Howlin said he was not concerned by Labour's poor showing.
"By-elections never determine the outcome of a general election, ask Bertie Ahern, he never won one but he won three consecutive general elections," Mr Howlin said.
"The media had written off Willie Quinn from the start of this campaign but the fact he got 14pc of the vote in his home town of Carlow and a credible end tally vote in Kilkenny, makes me very confident we will hold our vote here in the general election."