FG strategists insist party will take four Euro seats

Analysis: party insists grand plan intact, despite flat poll results and voter disaffection

 Taoiseach Enda Kenny addresses the media at the launch of Fine Gael’s European election campaign at the College of Physicians in Dublin yesterday with Fine Gael’s MEP candidates (from left):  Brian Hayes, Deirdre Clune, Jim Higgins, Mairead McGuinness, Simon Harris and Seán Kelly. Photograph: David Sleator

Taoiseach Enda Kenny addresses the media at the launch of Fine Gael’s European election campaign at the College of Physicians in Dublin yesterday with Fine Gael’s MEP candidates (from left): Brian Hayes, Deirdre Clune, Jim Higgins, Mairead McGuinness, Simon Harris and Seán Kelly. Photograph: David Sleator

Tue, Apr 29, 2014, 01:00

Contrary to polls that point to a double-dose of pressure on both Minister of State Brian Hayes and MEP Seán Kelly, Fine Gael strategists insist the party remains on course to retain four seats in the European Parliament next month.

Although flat weekend numbers for both candidates are quietly taken as something of a wake-up call, strategists are adamant that the feedback within the well-organised Fine Gael network suggests the grand plan remains more or less intact.

Still, it is readily acknowledged that Fine Gael is in line for inevitable voter disaffection on May 23rd. That is what a succession of polls suggest, along with a strong showing for Sinn Féin and the lack of momentum in Fianna Fáil’s campaign.

But with Labour already jittery in the opening days of the campaign, the sense remains within Fine Gael that it is the junior party that will bear the brunt of the backlash.

Hayes appeared favourite to top the poll only weeks ago. Though that particular prize seems to have slipped from his grasp, it would be an extraordinary setback for Fine Gael to emerge without one of the three seats in the capital. He has by far the highest profile of all the Dublin candidates.

Still in question is whether Fine Gael can take two seats in the enlarged South constituency. The Kerry-based Kelly secured more than 90,000 first-preference votes last time out so he is a doughty campaigner. However, the widening of the constituency raises questions about his capacity to win votes in far-flung counties such as Wicklow and Wexford.

Yet Kelly brings to the fray his access to the network of the GAA, of which he was a successful president.

Kelly’s running mates are Cork-based Senator Deirdre Clune, who has thrown huge resources into her campaign, and Wicklow TD Simon Harris, who has the merit of his Leinster base. While Clune was initially approached as a sweeper candidate to boost support in Cork for former IFA president John Bryan, he then decided not run. Her campaign has since emerged as something more substantial.

In spite of the expansion of the vast Midlands-North-West constituency, sitting MEP Maireád McGuinness is seen as a near-certainty to retain her seat next month. The redrawing of the constituency lines is not seen to be to the advantage of Mayo-based MEP Jim Higgins, who came under pressure from the party last year to rethink his candidacy.

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