Battle lines drawn in Euro elections as FF pick candidates for Midlands-North West

Pat the Cope Gallagher and Thomas Byrne chosen to contest sprawling four-seater

The European Parliament: Given the size of Ireland’s three constituencies, with local loyalties inevitably influencing the vote in some cases, as well as the volatility of the electorate, predicting the outcome are hazardous. Photograph:  Reuters/Vincent Kessler

The European Parliament: Given the size of Ireland’s three constituencies, with local loyalties inevitably influencing the vote in some cases, as well as the volatility of the electorate, predicting the outcome are hazardous. Photograph: Reuters/Vincent Kessler

Tue, Mar 18, 2014, 01:00

The selection at the weekend of Fianna Fáil’s two candidates for Midlands-North West in May’s European Parliament elections presents a clearer picture of the battle for seats in the sprawling four-seater.

Outgoing MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher, from Donegal, and Meath Senator and former TD Thomas Byrne were chosen to run in the constituency that takes in 15 counties and stretches from Donegal to the commuter belt near Dublin.

Speaking at the selection convention in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, on Saturday, Mr Gallagher emphasised his credentials for re-election, stressing his total of 13 years in the European Parliament and his time as a TD for Donegal South-West and as minister of state in a number of departments.

Mr Byrne said there was now an opportunity for new voices to renew the European vision and articulate a vision for Ireland’s future there. “I believe I have the experience, passion and ideas to be a voice for the Irish people in Europe and I look forward to making my case to the people,’’ he said.

Party leader Micheál Martin praised the two candidates and said Fianna Fáil had taken the lead in pushing for real reform in Europe over the past three years. “While the other parties have spent their time conforming to the existing agenda, we have been willing to set out a new approach of a Europe which exists for its citizens,” he said.

Given the size of the three constituencies, with local loyalties inevitably influencing the vote in some cases, as well as the volatility of the electorate, predictions about the outcome are hazardous.

Strong vote-getter
However, Mr Gallagher, a strong vote-getter, starts as favourite to secure what is expected to be one Fianna Fáil seat in Midlands-North West. He was once tempted back from Europe to run in a general election by then Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern with, it was reported at the time, a promise of senior ministerial office.

He was not best pleased when he was appointed to the junior ranks while his constituency colleague at the time, Mary Coughlan, was given a senior post. Mr Gallagher subsequently returned to the European Parliament.

He must extend his base somewhat, however, and much will also depend on how Mr Byrne manages to secure the support of the notoriously unpredictable commuter voters.

The anticipated Fine Gael seat in that constituency is between outgoing MEPs Louth-based Mairead McGuinness and Mayo-based Jim Higgins. Ms McGuinness starts as the frontrunner, but Mr Higgins, a star performer during his years in the Dáil and possible party leader at one time, cannot be underestimated.

On a good day for Fine Gael, the intense rivalry between the two candidates could produce two seats.

Strong bet
Outgoing Independent MEP Marian Harkin must be a strong bet to retain her seat, while Sinn Féin candidate Matt Carthy is also seen as having an excellent chance, given that the party has strong Oireachtas representation in the region.