The leading Sinn Fein candidate is “not overly optimistic” about retaining a European seat for the party in Midlands-North-West.

Michelle Gildernew is one of 27 candidates who contested the massive 15-county constituency to be one of the Republic of Ireland’s members of the European Parliament.

However, after the sixth count at 4.30pm on Tuesday, left-wing independent Luke “Ming” Flanagan remained in the lead.

He was followed by three candidates in a tight grouping; first-time Fine Gael candidate and former jockey Nina Carberry, Fianna Fail’s Barry Cowen, and Maria Walsh – also with Fine Gael.

Former RTE correspondent and Independent Ireland candidate Ciaran Mullooly leads the rest of the pack for the fifth and final seat, with a sizeable gap before his next-closest rival, Ms Gildernew.

Candidate Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is still in the lead (Niall Carson/PA)

The former MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone may benefit from transfers following the expected elimination of Chris MacManus, who inherited the party’s seat in the constituency after Matt Carthy become a TD in Ireland’s Dail.

Speaking at the TF Royal Count Centre on Tuesday, Ms Gildernew said the election is “not over until the last count is completed” but added: “We didn’t get the result we wanted – we’re still in the mix – but I’m not overly optimistic that I can overtake Ciaran Mullooly at this stage.”

Ms Gildernew stepped down from the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat to contest the European election.

Sinn Fein is running former general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing Pat Cullen in the seat instead.

Asked if she had any regrets about this decision, she said: “I don’t regret the decision that I made, I don’t regret running.”

Polling day followed shortly after the death of Ms Gildernew’s nephew during the late-stages of the campaign.

She added: “This is the setback – it’s definitely not a tragedy.

“I know what that feels like, this week as well and you know, I don’t have any regrets at all about the decision I made.”

Mr MacManus said the size of the constituency made it “very difficult” for him as he had not contested the previous election.

“To have name and face recognition is a massive asset to have.”

Counting officially began on Sunday but many of the candidates are bracing for the potential of the process continuing into Thursday.