Labour demise and SF gains only part of European election story

Analysis: Country voted for swingeing economic repair now punishing the Government for doing so

Left to right:  Edward Gill from Tipperary and Killian O’Donnell from Clare speak to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Brian Hayes canvassing commuters for at the Luas Terminal on St Stephens Green in Dublin recently. Photograph: Collins

Left to right: Edward Gill from Tipperary and Killian O’Donnell from Clare speak to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Brian Hayes canvassing commuters for at the Luas Terminal on St Stephens Green in Dublin recently. Photograph: Collins

Sun, May 25, 2014, 12:32

A preliminary reading of data from the three European constituencies confirms Sinn Féin’s forceful advance and Labour’s collapse. But that’s only part of the story. In question right now is whether Minister of State Brian Hayes can take a seat in Dublin for Fine Gael. Moreover, Independent TD Luke “Ming” Flanagan is in a commanding position in Midlands-North-West.

A country that voted for swingeing economic repair only three years ago is punishing the Government for doing just that. While the ultimate destination of final European seats cannot at this point be called, the Coalition’s weakness is not in doubt. This is evident in the street-by-street contest for council seats today, and it will be no different in the European count.

Public hostility to the tidal wave of tax hikes and cutbacks was evident for weeks in a succession of opinion polls. Now the real polls have delivered wounding blows to both Labour and Fine Gael, and a huge uplift in support for Sinn Féin and Independents who are resolutely opposed to the Government’s fiscal policy.

Having emerged from nowhere as Sinn Féin’s Dublin candidate, Lynn Boylan seems set now to top the poll in the capital. Her party colleague Liadh Ni Riadadh is well placed to take the second seat in South and Matt Carthy is well in contention for a seat in Midlands-North-West, though his election is not assured and he needs plenty transfers.

Senior Sinn Féin figures castigated the PSNI’s detention of Gerry Adams in the Jean McConville investigation as improper intrusion in the electoral process, but the affair does not seem to have damaged the party at all.

A three-seat sweep by Sinn Féin in Europe would be quite the opposite of the likely outcome for Labour, which won three seats in 2009 but lost one when Nessa Childers defected to the Independent ranks. Substitute Labour MEP Emer Costello seems set to lose the seat won last time out by Proinsias de Rossa and fellow substitute Phil Prendergast, who occupied the seat won by Minister of State Alan Kelly, will not be returning to the European Parliament. While Prendergast’s call for the resignation of Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore smacked of desperation and despair, Labour’s failure to win any European Parliament seats compounds its woes after a drubbing in the local councils. The big question now is whether Gilmore faces a challenge to his party leadership.

Fine Gael was a good deal more self-confident than the junior Coalition partner going into the European election but the party has reason for anxiety this evening. At the outset of the campaign, Hayes seemed like a sure thing to win Gay Mitchell’s seat in Europe. Doubt about his capacity to top the poll soon surfaced as Boylan raced ahead. But few observers seriously believed Hayes would struggle to win a seat at all.

Still, RTÉ’s exit poll this morning prompted trepidation in Fine Gael circles when it put support for Hayes at 14 per cent. This is not quite as per the Fine Gael grand plan. Tallies in middle class constituencies show Hayes polling well but the opposite is the case in working class constituencies. Hayes will probably pull through, but it will be a closer run thing that the party would wish for.

Also in contention in Dublin are Green leader Eamon Ryan (14 per cent in the RTÉ poll), Fianna Fail’s Mary Fitzpatrick (12 per cent) and Childers (11 per cent). Only time will tell whether Fitzpatrick can win enough transfers. Both Ryan and Childers are perceived to more transfer-friendly.

There is more. If Hayes’s colleague Maireád McGuinness is one of the most effective Irish MEPs, the RTÉ exit poll suggests she was eclipsed into second place in Midlands-North-West by Flanagan. McGuinness will probably retain her seat, but Flanagan’s exceptionally strong showing further underlines public antipathy to the Government’s stringent economic programme.

Whilst in third place, in the South constituency good vote management might yet see the party take two seats there; Sean Kelly is on 12 per cent, Deirdre Clune is on 9 per cent and Simon Harris is on 7 per cent. There is no certainty, however, of two seats.

The upshot of it all is this: Boylan’s victory in Dublin, combined with Flanagan’s decisive showing in Midlands-North-West, means that anti-austerity candidates topped the poll in more than half the State. Only the continued domination of the South constituency by Brian Crowley of Fianna Fáil gives put any of the establishment parties in the lead - and Crowley’s vote is always more of a personal phenomenon than a reflection of party affiliation.

With the Fitzpatrick campaign in the balance, the other major question for Fianna Fail is whether it can take a seat in Midlands-North-West. Outgoing MEP Pat “the Cope” Gallagher has 11 per cent, according to RTÉ, and Thomas Byrne has 10 per cent. Disciplined vote transfers could see one or other candidate elected but there are no certainties in that game. Outgoing Independent MEP Marian Harkin is in 11 per cent in Midlands-North-West and she could prove transfer friendly.

We will be well into next week before the final outcome is determined, but the trends are clear.

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