Ireland's final European Parliament seat was filled in the early hours of this morning, when outgoing independent MEP Marian Harkin retained her seat after a count lasting almost five days.
Fianna Fáil’s Pat the Cope Gallagher, one of Ireland’s longest-serving public representatives, conceded defeat shortly before 4am after a 16 hour-long recheck of votes which saw no change in the narrow margin between the two candidates.
The recheck had been offered by returning officer Fintan Murphy when only 275 votes separated the pair after the eighth count on Tuesday night in the TF Royal Theatre in Castlebar, Co Mayo.
“I’m a realist,” Mr Gallagher said, adding he had decided not to seek a full recount, as was his right, and expressing criticism of his party’s two-candidate strategy.
Mr Gallagher, who was first elected to the Dáil in 1981, served as MEP between 1994 and 2002. He was appointed to several junior ministries after his election to Dail Éireann in that year, and was asked to run for Europe again by former Taoiseach Brian Cowen in 2009. He has been a leading contributor to European Parliament's fisheries committee.
He congratulated Ms Harkin and her three elected Midlands North-West MEPs - Independent Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, Fine Gael's Mairead McGuinness and Matt Carthyof Sinn Féin - and urged all 11 new Irish representatives to work together in the interests of Ireland.
Both he and Ms Harkin paid tribute to all those unsuccessful candidates, particularly outgoing Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins.
Ms Harkin said she had worked closely with both, and “if it could have been somebody else other than Pat here tonight, that is what I would have wanted”.
Both were linked to the centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).
The 16 hour recheck began shortly after noon yesterday, when bundles of about half a million first preference votes were examined by counting staff, closely watched by supporters of both candidates.
Ms Harkin's team of scrutineers were joined by Mr Flanagan and a half dozen of his team, while Mr Gallagher was assisted by former Fianna Fáil junior ministers Dara Calleary and Noel Treacy - with no sign of party running mate Thomas Byrne.
Then shortly before midnight, focus shifted to transfers – as in some 16,000 non-transferable votes for Mr Byrne, almost 8,000 transfers between Byrne and Sinn Féin's elected MEP, Matt Carthy, and transfers from Fine Gael's Jim Higgins to party colleague Mairead McGuinness to Ms Harkin.
Minutes after Mr Gallagher conceded victory to Ms Harkin, Mr Murphy said that as no significant errors had been found, he would announce the eighth count, as in the distribution of the surplus accrued by Mr Carthy.
Ms Harkin was deemed elected without having reached the quota, hugged her mother, son and family and was hoisted on cheering supporters’ shoulders as dawn broke over south Mayo.