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Sinn Fein's gamble fails as Higgins and Casey leave Ni Riada trailing

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DISAPPOINTMENT: Liadh Ni Riada at the national count centre in Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Gerry Mooney

DISAPPOINTMENT: Liadh Ni Riada at the national count centre in Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Gerry Mooney

DISAPPOINTMENT: Liadh Ni Riada at the national count centre in Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Gerry Mooney

The presidential election has delivered a blow to Sinn Fein's vote, with Liadh Ni Riada trailing in the polls.

The Cork MEP was chosen by the party to challenge incumbent Michael D Higgins for the presidency, thereby triggering an election.

Exit polls showed that she had secured just 7.4pc of the vote, half the figure that Sinn Fein would expect to win in a general election.

As of 6pm yesterday, Ni Riada had secured 6.4pc of first preference votes, putting her ahead of independent candidates Joan Freeman and Gavin Duffy, but just behind Sean Gallagher, who picked up 6.5pc. Peter Casey surged to 23pc, but Higgins romped home with 55pc.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald insisted yesterday that the party had no regrets. She told reporters that she stood by the decision to contest the election and defended Ni Riada as the "best candidate", a "woman of substance and considerable grace". She said she was disappointed with the result, "but that's an election".

McDonald congratulated Higgins on his "comprehensive and historic mandate for a second term".

The meagre showing for Ni Riada contrasts with recent opinion polls which had put the party's support in the 15pc range.

Casey, the surprise performer of the campaign, is believed to have eaten substantially into Sinn Fein's vote.

The party hoped that Ni Riada's appeal would reach beyond Sinn Fein voters, and the party's logo was left off her posters.

McDonald defended that decision yesterday, saying: "We supported our candidate, we came in with eyes wide open.

"People don't come at it solely though a party political lens. People are conscious that they are electing their first citizen."

During the campaign, Ni Riada was accused of "flip- flopping" on the HPV vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer. Having said in 2016 that she would not allow her daughter to receive the vaccine, she insisted during the campaign that she was pro-vaccine.

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She faced further criticism when, during one of the presidential debates, she was tripped up on her claim that she takes home the average industrial wage from her MEP's salary.


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