The Ireland South MEP Brian Crowley is to retire from politics after a sustained bout of ill-health over recent years.

The 54-year-old - who is the longest serving Irish MEP - confirmed this afternoon that he will not be seeking re-election to the European Parliament this May.

Speaking at a news conference, Mr Crowley said that a sustained bout of ill-health over recent years has forced the decision "despite his best efforts to regain full health".

Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher announced that he will put his name forward for selection as a candidate for the South constituency in the European Parliament elections.

The Cork North Central TD said he was making this announcement after Mr Crowley’s announcement.

A poll-topping MEP since 1994, Mr Crowley said that it breaks his heart to leave a job he loves but he counts his blessings.

"No-one received more support, in sickness and in health, than me from my constituents over the past 25 years. It has been a privilege and a joy to serve such wonderful people."

The independent MEP topped the poll in the last European election in 2014 - as he did when running for Fianna Fáil in 1994, 1999, 2004, and 2009.

But he has come under sustained pressure in recent times to resign his seat given his inability to attend parliament at all this term due to his ill-health.

A wheelchair user since the age of 16, when an accidental fall from a building left him paralysed from the hips down, he also some years later survived another near-death experience in a car accident.

Mr Crowley defended his record saying he had been able to work remotely from his hospital bed and from home, saying he had never kept his need for on-going treatment secret and yet despite this "the south constituency were willing to have a person with my medical disadvantages represent them".

"In sickness and in health we all have our rights", said Mr Crowley.

He said he remains a proud member of the Fianna Fáil party despite being forced in 2014 to switch groups in the European Parliament which in turn led to his expulsion from the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party.

"Let me assure everyone, that whatever group I worked from, I and my politics did not change and I continued to strive to be a voice fearlessly on the people's side.

"My style was always to get on with things, get on with people, and that's what I did over this term too. I am still a proud member of the Fianna Fáil party."

Politician enjoyed unrivalled popular support from voters