Higgins on verge of surprise victory in knife-edge battle for final seat

 

DUBLIN:THE SOCIALIST Party candidate Joe Higgins was in with a strong chance last night of causing a major upset in the European Parliament elections by clinching the final seat in Dublin ahead of sitting MEPs Eoin Ryan of Fianna Fáil and Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin.

However, Fianna Fáil last night said that Mr Ryan’s vote of almost 14 per cent was stronger than tallies had predicted and predicted that he would be in a battle for the third seat with Mr Higgins that would “go right to the wire”.

The first two counts in the three-seat constituency were announced shortly after 9.20pm.

Fine Gael’s MEP Gay Mitchell topped the poll with 95,715 votes (24.5 per cent), just a little under 5,000 short of the quota of 101,658.

Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa also looked certain of retaining his seat with 83,571 votes (20.5 per cent).

In the battle for the third and final seat, the indications are that the other two sitting MEPs, Mr Ryan and Mary Lou McDonald, may lose out to Mr Higgins, a former TD for Dublin West.

However, the count was delayed last night after the Green Party candidate Senator Deirdre de Búrca was granted a full recount after the completion of the third count, with Ms de Búrca 400 votes behind the former Green MEP Patrica McKenna.

The recount will delay the final result by at least three hours.

After the first count Mr Ryan was lying third with 55,346 votes (13.6 per cent). Fianna Fáil strategists conceded that the gap between Mr Ryan and Mr Higgins might not be large enough for him to stay ahead in subsequent counts.

Mr Higgins’ share of first preferences was 50,510 (12.4 per cent), marginally ahead of Ms McDonald, who secured 47,928 votes (11.7 per cent).

The Socialist Party candidate, who had a lead of some 2,500 votes over Ms McDonald after the first count, was expected to stay ahead of Ms McDonald in subsequent counts.

However, Mr Ryan benefited from a transfer of almost 10,000 lower preferences from his running mate Ms Byrne, bringing his total to just over 66,000, some 13,000 ahead of Mr Higgins, whose total increased to 53,083.

Mr Higgins said his vote was a major statement from ordinary people, workers and the unemployed about their outrage at the “slash and burn policies of Government”.

Mr Ryan said last night that his chances of retaining the seat would be contingent on maintaining the gap of 13,000 votes between him and Mr Higgins.

“I am in there with a chance, there’s no question about that. It’s going to be very dependent on transfers. A lot of people said they would transfer to me,” he said.

Senior Sinn Féin sources privately accepted last night that the chance of Ms McDonald overtaking Mr Higgins was remote.

If eliminated, Ms McDonald’s transfers were expected to trend very heavily to Mr Higgins.

The standing of the other candidates after the first count was: Ms de Burca, 19,096 (4.7 per cent); Ms McKenna, 17,521 (4.3 per cent); Caroline Simons of Libertas, 13,415 (3.2 per cent) and the independent candidate Emmanuel Sweeney, 3,583 (0.8 per cent).

Outgoing FG MEP Gay Mitchell spoke last night of his sense of humility at his anticipated election in Dublin.

“I am really quite humbled that people would still continue to put me so high in the pecking order.’’

Mr De Rossa said that, overall, the elections were a disaster for Fianna Fáil, representing, in the immediate term, “a very severe kick in the shins’’ for the party.