Opposition to target Labour seat held by Emer Costello

Top vote in Dublin is a glittering prize that Fine Gael needs Hayes to win

 Minister of State at the Department of Finance Brian Hayes at Leinster house today where he announced his candidacy in the upcoming European elections. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister of State at the Department of Finance Brian Hayes at Leinster house today where he announced his candidacy in the upcoming European elections. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Wed, Jan 29, 2014, 14:09

With the field for the European election in Dublin now clear, the key question to be settled in May is whether the Opposition can deal a blow the Government by taking the Labour seat held by substitute MEP Emer Costello.

A further question centres on whether Fianna Fáil can regain a seat in the capital, a prime task for leader Mícheál Martin given the party’s lack of TDs in the city.

The news this morning that Minister of State Brian Hayes had declared his candidacy for Fine Gael confirms the assessment that he was not in the line for a Cabinet seat when Taoiseach Enda Kenny reshuffles the deck.

A separate declaration by East MEP Nessa Childers that she will run as an Independent in Dublin ensures the field will be very crowded indeed.

Childers resigned from Labour whip in protest at the Government budget policy. Having moved constituency and left her party, it will be difficult election for her.

These candidates are in addition to substitute Socialist MEP Paul Murphy, Mary Fitzpatrick for Fianna Fáil, Eamon Ryan for the Greens, Lynn Boylan of Sinn Féin’s and Brid Smith of United Left Alliance.

While Hayes’ election to the European Parliame0nt seems assured, his standing as a potential leader of the party would be damaged if he does not top the poll. This is all the more so given his lack of Cabinet experience .

Hayes is running to take the seat won in 2004 by retiring MEP Gay Mitchell at a time when Kenny was trying to revive the party as an electoral force after its drubbing in the 2002 election.

With the Fine Gael now the dominant party in the State, top vote in Dublin is a glittering prize that Hayes needs to win.

While an anti-Government backlash is inevitable come polling day, Labour appears more vulnerable on that front than Fine Gael. For all that, other senior poltiicians have been disappointed in the Dublin constituency.

Both Mary Harney and Pat Rabbitte failed to win European seats when they ran.

The contest is crucial for Labour.

Costello lacks the profile of retired MEP Proinsias de Rossa, whose seat she inherited.

The party’s vulnerability in Dublin is tacitly acknowledged by activists, although they insist there is still a fighting chance.

The problem centres on major voter dissatisfaction at budget policies in Labour’s heartland, something the Opposition parties have drummed home time and again.

Labour sees opportunity in the absence thus far of a major anti-Government figurehead like former Socialist MEP Joe Higgins, who won the seat now held by Murphy.

Thus the calculation within Labour may be that the Opposition vote splinters. Murphy is no Higgins, and he faces rival claims for hard left votes from Smith.

It still remains quite possible that the Opposition will take two seats in Dublin, but quite who prevails remains open to speculation.

After all, Fitzpatrick is hindered by Fianna Fáil’s collapse in the wake of the economic crash.

Although the party believes her storied conflict with Bertie Ahern will be to her advantage, she needs to impose herself on campaign trail in a big way. A seat for Fianna Fáil would be a huge fillip, but it is quite a task.

The same goes for Ryan, who was in Ahern’s last Cabinet and was there for Brian Cowen’s disastrous takeover. The Greens remain in a state of acute weakness following their unhappy and unsuccessful time in Coalition with Fianna Fáil.

For Sinn Féin, Boylan has not yet established herself the field in the way that Mary Lou McDonald launched her career in national politics in the 2004 European election.

That poll was the making of Ms McDonald, and she is now deputy leader of Sinn Féin. It is an uncertain panorama. Hayes looks like the only sure thing but that can be a risky thing in its own right.

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