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 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.
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.
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.
Labour’s Senator Lorraine Higgins will battle against the party’s fading fortunes . The Green Party’s Mark Dearey, Independent Senator Rónán Mullen and Independent Mark Fitzsimons are also seeking seats.
Meanwhile, in the equally sprawling four-seat South constituency, extending from Kerry to Wicklow, outgoing MEPs Brian Crowley (FF) and Seán Kelly (FG) are viewed as strong favourites to return to the parliament.
The other candidates in that constituency are Fine Gael Senator Deirdre Clune and party colleague and Wicklow TD Simon Harris. Given that Ms Clune’s base is Cork, next to Seán Kelly in neighbouring Kerry, Mr Harris will have a geographical advantage to exploit.
Mr Crowley’s running mate is Waterford based anti-pylon campaigner Kieran Hartley, while other candidates are Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada – one of the well known Cork-based family, whose father was the composer Seán Ó Riada – the Green Party’s Grace O’Sullivan and Independent Diarmuid O’Flynn.
It is expected that Fine Gael Minister of State for Finance Brian Hayes will top the poll in the three-seat Dublin constituency, given his high profile and strong performance in the junior ministerial ranks.
Outgoing Labour MEP Emer Costello, who replaced Proinsias De Rossa, elected last time to the parliament, is stressing more of her personal than party credentials in some posters.
She could have a battle in her hands, as could outgoing Socialist Party MEP, Paul Murphy, who took over from Joe Higgins when he returned to the Dáil. While the performance of Independent Nessa Childers, former Labour MEP for the East constituency, is an imponderable, she does have a reasonable profile.
A strong candidate could be Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who may benefit from disillusionment with the major parties, given that the European elections are personality driven in many respects.
Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan will be fighting from a solid base and could benefit from TD Mary Lou McDonald’s strong Dáil performance.
A candidate to watch is Fianna Fáil councillor Mary Fitzpatrick, who could secure the support of former party supporters returning to the fold if she gets the message across that she was politically sidelined for years by Bertie Ahern.